Tag Archives: history

Walden Pond

A replica of Thoreau's hut, with a statue of the man himself
Another thing that surprises me about Boston was how close the wilderness is. In New Zealand all the accessible land near cities tends to be farmed, but in Massachusetts there is so much reasonably flat land that tracts can be left fallow all over the place.

A trail near Walden PondWalden Pond was the site of Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in simple living and was made famous in Thoreau’s book. The park is pretty much a shrine to Thoreau, you can visit the original site of his cabin and view a replica cabin built near the car park. Near the replica is a sign with Thoreau’s original itemised list of expenses. He spent 28 dollars and twelve and a half cents for his freedom living near the pond, whereas I spent a fiver just to park my car there. I am not sure if that refutes his larger point or proves it.

The pond is not large and the park is only slightly larger, but it is a very peaceful and pretty spot to wander around the delightfully unkempt paths. Apparently people swim in the lake in Summer, but today there were still patches of ice in the more sheltered corners of the pond.

I didn’t see any of the promised birdlife, but I did come across a small pond half covered in ice and half filled with noisy frogs.

An icy pond containing frogs (not shown)

Walden Pond

Film Review : The Wind Rises

Jiro Horikoshi is a young boy in provincial 1910s Japan when he realizes that his mission in life is to design airplanes. Becoming a top class engineer just in time to join Japan’s struggle to become a first-world nation, Jiro’s designs will be needed for certain national ambitions.

A frame from The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ) is the latest film from Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki, and it fits right in with the best of Miyazaki’s work. Although serious in tone and completely non-fantastical (except for a few dream sequences), it has the same gentle almost fairy-tale quality as earlier films such as Spirited Away. The the story moves gracefully along and artwork is top-notch, every frame could hang in a gallery. I particularly liked the way that the motion of air was portrayed, almost every scene has waves of grass in motion or smoke lazily drifting, very befitting for a film concerning an aviation engineer.

Viewers expecting a hard hitting film about the build up to WWII will be disappointed, the film doesn’t exactly skirt around the issue as it is just not interested with telling that story. The coming war is alluded to, and the changing nature of Japan’s ties with Germany comes into play at certain points, but the focus is firmly on the struggle to create in the face of great obstacles. That fact that the creation is a war machine is only lightly touched on.

This is not really a criticism, The Wind Rises is about mostly about creating rather than the thing created and it succeeds in its goal. However there does seem to be a large WWII shaped-hole leaving a slightly disjointed tale. But that disjointedness does play into the dreamlike feel that the film seems to be going for.

Moving and beautiful, The Wind Rises is worth watching. Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Swerve : How the World Became Modern

The Swerve : How the World Became Modern
By Stephen Greenblatt
ISBN: 9780393064476

Cover picture from The SwerveThe dark ages took a pretty brutal toll on Europe and it is no surprise that scholars of that era looked back to the writings of the Roman Empire with a reverence that they probably didn’t deserve. But the rediscovery of one particular document, On The Nature of Things by the free thinking Lucretuis, inspired several generations of scholars and kickstarted the scientific revolution.

Or so Greenblatt’s impressively researched book argues. Actually, most of the page count is concerned with a monk named Poggio Bracciolini who led a fascinating life against a backdrop of distant monasteries and vicious vatican politics, before becoming something of a professional manuscript hunter with On The Nature of Things his greatest find.

On The Nature of Things certainly sounds like a wonderful piece of work. It asserts that the Gods (if they exist) take no interest in humanity and that natural laws (not to mention random chance) hold complete sway over events. It even claims that all matter is made of tiny particles, which is a remarkable guess. I imagine it was pretty heady stuff for stuffy 15th century society.

The Swerve is at its best when it is describing Bracciolini’s life and the state of 15th century Italy. But it makes an unconvincing argument that On The Nature of Things‘ rediscovery deflected caused the course of human thinking to swerve (to use the book’s tortured analogy) away from dogma towards science. There were lots of things going on, and the new found popularity of an ancient poem was only part of the story.

Despite that quibble, The Swerve is well written and informative if perhaps a little dense for summertime reading.

Now That’s What I Call Music

These important historical documents have just come to my attention and must be archived for future generations.


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It is interesting to see the general drop of in quality between the (generally sublime) 1983 top 20 and the (quite passible) 1985 vintage. If this trend continues, in just 28 years the countdown could be filled with complete rubbish.

Book Review : The Man Who Invented the Daleks, The Strange Worlds of Terry Nation

The Man Who Invented the Daleks, The Strange Worlds of Terry Nation by Alwyn W. Turner

Terry Nation casts a long shadow over British television, although only in very particular corners. His main claim to fame (and riches due to canny licensing deals) is that he wrote the first Dalek story for the then new Doctor Who but his career stretches over many decades. Starting out as a comedy writer, he eventually made the switch to drama in the early 60s and never looked back. The list of shows he wrote for reads like a perfect rainy Saturday afternoon’s viewing: The Saint, The Avengers, Doctor Who, and Blake’s Seven, plus all sorts of other thick slices of cheese on toast. One of the last things he did was Macgyver, back when it was good.

The Man Who Invented The Daleks CoverThis biography is a bit of a strange beast. It is incredibly detailed in some respects, going over each show (and sometimes individual episodes) with the kind of meticulous scrupulousness that only the British can muster.

On the other hand, Nation was a man who entered his chosen profession early, worked hard, made some contacts, and found success pretty early on. An admirable way to live your life perhaps, but not much to hang a great biography on. His childhood is covered in a few pages, somewhere along the way he acquires a wife. His first born child gets a brief mention, but only because Nation wrote a popular children’s book for her. His other child only appears for a sentence or two. There are no serious setbacks along the way, no lost loves, no professional rivals. Just page after page of Nation churning out stories.

And churn them out he could. Almost all his colleagues were in awe at the speed at which he wrote (his secret was never doing second drafts) and the consistent quality of his scripts (his secret was to have a lot of stock scenes that he could “recycle”).

In fact, this biography is a testament the Nation’s approach; like his serials each episode in the book is entertaining but the whole thing is a bit same-y if you consume the whole thing in one go. You don’t even get a chase through dimly lit corridors or a bomb to liven up the plot.

Only recommended if you really like this sort of thing.