Five things I learnt this week …

So, apart from more unwanted confirmation that we are going to hell in a handcart, what did I learn this last week?

  1. Tom Leinster’s Basic Category Theory is in lots of ways really good. It is full of illuminating explanations and very helpful connection-making. But — rather cheeringly for me! — it isn’t quite so basic and quite so good as to make it redundant to continue trying to work on a Gentle Introduction  for a somewhat different audience. I had looked at much of Leinster’s book when it came out: but now a few of us are reading through it together, which concentrates the mind on its expositional successes and possible flaws. And, for one thing,  we are not that convinced by the organization of the book (I can see why Leinster wants to start talking about adjunctions very early on — that way, we get to interesting stuff fast — but it does seem to mean that some things are initially more puzzling than they need be, as their rationale can only really become clear later). Still, I’m really enjoying and learning from the reading group.
  2. I was a bit staggered to find (having not looked at the analytics before) that the front page of the LaTeX for Logicians section here was visited over 100K times last year. Which is also cheering in a small way, if only because it shows that the past effort wasn’t wasted; but this also made me feel more than a bit guilty about neglecting those pages for quite a while. Which is why I gave over a day or so to sorting things out there (making one or two interesting discoveries along the way).
  3. Talking of analytics, mine ceased to work for a fortnight on Well, no matter; but it does seem to be symptomatic of some trouble they are having in getting basic things to work reliably. Indeed, they now seem to have broken the ability to show a list of papers in a given research area (and we’ve never been able to do basic things like order the results of searches by e.g. number of views/downloads in the last 30 days, so we can spot papers that colleagues are deeming worth looking at). Yet despite the seeming shakiness of the current offering, I discover that are now inviting us to sign up for a premium service at (would you believe!?) $9.99 a month for what seem to be trivial benefits. That is ridiculous. Their efforts so far at monetisation aren’t going to end well.
  4. The Julliard Quartet in their present incarnation are pretty good but not stunningly so. They performed here in Cambridge last week in the often terrific Camerata Musica series, playing Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet, the Debussy quartet, and Beethoven’s last quartet.  Maybe I wasn’t initially in the right mood, but their Mozart just didn’t work for me: dully uninspired. Fortunately, things then got a lot better.
  5. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, however,  is consistently amazing. Yes, I know, how did I get this far without having read it before?

2 thoughts on “Five things I learnt this week …”

  1. For me, To the Lighthouse seems radically different at different times, depending on my mood and on what I’ve been reading.

    When I first looked in, it seemed magical, but I didn’t read it properly then, and I’ve never been able to recapture that impression. I think I must have opened to the middle part, Time Passes — in which the house is empty, the nights are full of wind and destruction, and characters meet their fates in square brackets — but I can’t any more be sure.

    For years, I found it unappealing. It can seem self parody. For instance, here:

    “… But after Q? … Z is only reached once by one man in a generation. Still, if he reached R it would be something. Here at least was Q. He dug his heels in at Q. Q he was sure of. Q he could demonstrate. If Q then is Q — R … Here he knocked his pipe out with two or three resonant taps on the ram’s horn which made the handle of the urn, and proceeded. ‘Then R …’ He braced himself. He clenched himself. … A shutter, like the leathern eyelid of a lizard, flickered over the intensity of his gaze and obscured the letter R.”

    Eventually I approached it like Ramsay did R, through a series of other books. Here is Jane Austin. Jane I was sure of. After Jane, Charlotte Bronte and Villette. …

    1. “To the Lighthouse seems radically different at different times, depending on my mood and on what I’ve been reading.” Yes, I can very well imagine having that response. For whatever reason, having picked it up and rapidly put it down again in the past, this time I found myself gripped.

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