Showing posts from 2011

Mass of the Higgs boson in Old Money

Estimated mass of the Higgs boson = 125 GeV/c^2

1 GeV/c^2 = 1.0735 u

Therefore the mass of Higgs boson = 134 u, or roughly the same as a whole atom of caesium.

It looks like science may finally be able to answer one of the Big Questions that have fascinated mankind for thousands of years, namely "who ate all the pies?"

EU leaders agree "European Debt-Deflation Death Spiral Pact"

BRUSSELS - Triumphant EU negotiators are preparing to announce a resolution to the Eurozone crisis which absolutely won't be revealed to be half-baked within a week or so.

The European Debt-Deflation Death Spiral Pact, also known as the "European Suicide Pact", will commit all Eurozone members to a strict austerity regime that will plunge Europe into a deep recession, which will lead to higher borrowing requirements, which will lead to more austerity, which will lead to a deeper recession, and so on until Europe is torn apart by social unrest.

Speaking from her coronation as God-Empress of Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the deal. "The horror of 1920's hyperinflation is burned on our nation's collective memory," she said. "So we must act now to replay the even more disastrous but somehow conveniently forgotten 1930's austerity policies of Heinrich BrĂ¼ning. Yes, it will lead the EU to its doom, but at least we'll get to wag …

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

I'm pleased to confirm that Freedom is the masterpiece that everyone says it is, and don't have much to add except "If you like The Corrections ... you'll love this!".

Like The Corrections, Freedom is a family saga embedded in world affairs, with the Iraq war and environmentalism taking the place of the biotech bubble and post-communist Europe. The family is again from the midwestern American middle class, and again its centre of gravity moves east during the course of the book. The similarities and echoes might be tiresome if it weren't almost a decade since I read The Corrections. As it is, it feels fresh.

All this pigeonholing obscures the fact that the Berglunds are just as much a fully-formed and original a family as the Lamberts. The voices are if anything even more distinctive, though the decision to structure part of the book as an autobiography of one of the characters slightly undermines this. Patty's writing is so close in style to the narrat…

I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett

I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth Discworld novel about trainee witch Tiffany Aching. The first three were marketed as trainee Discworld books for younger readers, but Midnight has the size and heft of a standard one. Observant cover-judgers will also note that it says 'A Discworld Novel' instead of 'A Story of Discworld'. Only the chapter divisions hint at its YA past.

I have to confess that I gave up on the Tiffany Aching series after the second in the series as it was a little too determinedly written for children. But the Doubleday marketeers apparently want me to think again and who am I to turn them down? I'm glad that I did so, as I Shall Wear Midnight is a great read that can stand tall among its peers. I have repented and will be buying Wintersmith at the earliest opportunity.

Maybe, though, it felt more grown-up simply because Tiffany has grown-up. She is now 16 and is the witch in charge of the Chalk region. That she is both recognisably the same Tiffa…

When the Lights Went Out - Andy Beckett

Seventies Britain feels like another country, and not just because I wasn't born until the very end of the decade. Andy Beckett rightly complains that it has been too easily caricatured as a decade of decline and perpetual crisis, even though by several measures Britain has never had it so good, either before or since. Nevertheless, it was a time of dramatic changes. When The Lights Went Out succeeds in its aim of painting a complex picture of the times.

Beckett's book is an unashamedly political history. If you're looking to find out about the career of Brian Clough or the transition from prog rock to punk you'll have to look elsewhere (sadly). But as a guide to the three-day week, entering the EEC, the IMF negotiations or the Grunwick strike, it is excellent. Social concerns do make an appearance at times but only insofar as they are political, as when Beckett convincingly argues that the Seventies, not the Sixties, were the real decade of progress in areas such as …

Just My Type - Simon Garfield

Christmas is a time for reading books you can dip in and out of between TV specials. My Christmas book of choice this year was Just My Type, a book about fonts.

My own interest in typography came from computing. Growing up in the 80s meant blocky 8x8 characters and dot matrix printers. Just My Type describes a mysterious parallel world of Apple Macintoshes, where letters came in many shapes and sizes. But my first encounter with this black magic had to wait until Microsoft cribbed their work in Word for Windows. OK, so it may not have the romance of the Mac, but there was the same intoxicating mixture of art and technology as the letters kerned themselves perfectly before my eyes. What could be cooler? (don't answer that).

My last literary encounter with the subject was an aside in The Art of Travel by the pop-philosopher Alain de Botton, who describes how the modernist lettering on an airport sign provokes the pleasurable feeling of being somewhere exotic. Just My Type is a who…