OS X Frustration

One unforgivably bad thing about OS X is that it completely lacks an appropriate text editor for working with HTML, scripts, or other such text files where you don’t want any formatting artifacts inserted. If you want to see what I mean, open an HTML file in TextEdit, change a view things, and try loading it in Firefox. Even worse, try getting htaccess files properly configured.

Anticipating the response: yes, there are the command line Unix editors – vi, emacs, and that ilk. Even when I used Linux as my primary OS, I was never at some with these infuriating throwbacks to the days of weakly glowing green CRT monitors. Yes, they are very powerful. No, nobody who doesn’t have an intense passion for computer science would ever be justified in putting in the time to learn their byzantine interfaces.

Come on, Mr. Jobs. At least put something like the freeware jEdit into the next version as standard. If you can include the entirety of the child-oriented World Book Encyclopedia, you can spare three megs.


Journey completed, much to do

Now back in Oxford, I am a bit overwhelmed with how many tasks there are to be completed in the next little while. The first group of them is post-trip consolidation. That includes finishing up the running tally of expenses for Sarah and I and choosing a way to repay her the difference between our contributions. It includes doing laundry, unpacking, and dealing with a huge mass of mail: both electronic and physical.

Also to be completed are the buying of Christmas gifts, the reading of books of neo-realism, and the making of further and more extensive lists.

Just being back on my Mac makes me feel hopeful, however. The blog only looks truly right under Firefox in OS X. Let it be known to one and all that Internet Explorer is a lousy browser. Just look at all the idiotic bugs web designers need to deal with, knowing people will choose to view their pages in IE. After trying for hours to get the sidebar to always appear on the right hand side and not have wierd formatting errors in the lists, I am letting it be for now. For those of you still using Microsoft’s substandard browser, here is a glimpse of how the blog is meant to look:

siob with proper formattingFor your own security (IE has as many security bugs as it does of other sorts) and for the sanity of amateur and professional web designers, please get Firefox. Once you install it, you probably won’t even notice the difference most of the time. When you do, it will be because you note with appreciation how much better a blog or other page now looks.

Get Firefox

Back to reading

Kelly and Huston in the King's ArmsSince all of the Waltz and Mearsheimer books seem to have been plucked from the Wadham Library – and no surprise, since neorealists are selfish and wicked – I started Keohane’s Neorealism and its Critics today. I shall have to find The Tragedy of Great Power Politics and the Theory of International Politics somewhere, before I go to Estonia.

The progression of much appreciated pieces of mail continued today. My mother sent me a package for St. Nicholas Day, including candy, a toque, and a book. The book is Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. The toque is synthetic, reversible, and warm-seeming. I anticipate being especially glad to have it in Estonia, though one with short hair can never really have enough things with which to cover one’s increasingly valuable brain. Pickled, mine would now be worth Pounds and Pounds. Many thanks to my mother for the gift.

I finished listening to the third book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, as played on the radio, today. I much prefer the books. To me, the voice acting is overdone to the point of being annoying. Somehow, it manages to be dramatically less funny off the page – to me, at least. It may be that I know the books so well, there was no chance the same jokes in another medium would really work. That said, I have never enjoyed the radio, with the singular exception of when I used to listen to it with Alison at the middle of the night, when we were in elementary school.

Talking with Jonathan this evening, I learned that my friend Emerson got into a collision with another cyclist on the Lions Gate Bridge. Thankfully, and as you would expect, he was wearing a helmet. Though shaken up badly, he doesn’t seem to be in serious danger. Because one of the bike lanes is closed for construction, people going in both directions have to do so on the same sidewalk. I hope he recovers quickly and completely and that people who knew him from Handsworth or Camp Fircom will take the effort to check in on him.

Later this evening, I donned my waterproof, wide-brimmed hat and set out into the rain to meet Claire. We visited the Eagle and Child, where I once went in search of IR M.Phil students but was turned away empty handed. Tonight, we had a nice conversation about travel, photography, alcohol sociology, high school peer groups, and much else. Claire also told me something about the composition of our core seminar for next term. Canadians will be envious to learn that Jennifer Welsh is one of the two seminar directors. At UBC, I remember her being described to me as “one of Canada’s most brilliant and accomplished young minds.” I was also glad to hear that Bryony, Alex, and Emily will still be part of my group.

After leaving the pub, I had the chance to see the inside of her college, and we chatted for a while with the barman about scotch and North Carolina: yet another of these ubiquitous North Carolinians in Oxford. St. Cross is a very modern looking college on the inside, as I noted to Claire. There is something about the way discourse flows at all graduate colleges that I can’t actually explain yet, but that I can spot readily.

General comments:

  • Does anybody know when the police bike auction next term will be? I’d also like to know where they happen and what I would expect to pay for a used bike in good condition. Also, I need to figure out where I can get a helmet, lights, and a lock for a tolerable price. It’s annoying that I have all of those things back in Vancouver, but it would almost certainly cost more to ship than to buy here: especially if I can sell it in summer 2007.
  • I am worried about Frank. His posts are stranger than usual lately, and rather more self-destructive.
  • I need to devise a way to get from Oxford to Stansted Airport by about 4:45am on the 16th. Probably, a rather better idea is to find my way to Sarah’s house the evening prior. It’s in Radlett, which means nothing to me, but I will figure it out.
  • There’s a new episode of the excellent web comic Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life. You should take a peek.

Nerdy computer stuff:

  • Trying to get the blog to render properly in all browsers is a pageant of frustration. In IE, the sidebar sometimes appears at the bottom, sometimes on the side. This seems to vary between different computers and different versions of IE. In Safari, the font is entirely wrong: Serif instead of Sans-Serif, much too large, and bold when it shouldn’t be. Anyone with godly knowledge of CSS and HTML who feels inclined to help me will be praised most highly and received with profound appreciation. I really shouldn’t be spending so much time mucking around with this.
  • On a closely related note, not even PDF files, whose entire raison d’etre is to render identically in all environments, are no longer properly standardized. What is a mildly obsessive self-publisher to do?
  • One bug in Firefox 1.5: for some reason, pages I visit keep getting added to the Bookmarks Toolbar, without my ever requesting it.
  • Another: RSS feeds that are bookmarked will not display if opening them doesn’t leave enough space to the right to show the box.
  • Another: sometimes, the reload button vanishes
  • Blogger has been so slow and unreliable in the last few days that I am considering switching blogging services entirely, not just hosting servers. Which do people recommend and why?

New Webspace

As you can see, a sibilant intake of breath has a new home. There are still a few kinks to be worked out, especially in terms of photo posting, but everything should be up and running soon. Thanks for updating your links.

[Edited to add: It’s now 5:37am – late even for those with vampiric insomnia. I am done fixing the photos up to the start of November. I am off to make a tenth attempt at sleep, as Jessica advises. Bonsoir.]

Oxford Blog Listing

[Update 17 May 2006] This listing is no longer being updated, as a blog entry. The latest version will be available at this location, from now on.

I thought I should create a centralized listing of Oxford blogs, as a means of keeping track of the community. Blogs that don’t include enough information to categorize, based on a cursory examination, have been filed under ‘other.’ Blogs are added in the order I discover them. These have all been located through Technorati (a blog search engine) or through links on other Oxford blogs. Blogs that haven’t been updated in months will not be added.

People who I’ve met:

  1. Pandora’s Blog
    Run by Kate, who I met at the Oxford Bloggers’ Gathering on October 29, 2005.
  2. Storyteller’s World
    Run by Tony, who I met at the bloggers’ gathering.
  3. Jo’s Journal
    One of the political bloggers I met at the gathering.
  4. Antonia’s Blog
    The other political blogger, a self-described Labour party activist.
  5. in vino veritas
    Run by Lee Jones, who is in the second year of the International Relations M.Phil.
  6. Mike’s Little Red Page
    A socialistic blog, run by Mike.
  7. Consider Phlebas
    Run by Robert Jubb, who I met at the second Oxford bloggers’ gathering on February 21st, 2006.


  1. but she’s a girl…
    Blog of a cool female photography and Mac geek, living in Oxford.
  2. Head in the Clouds
    Run by one of the Wadham College porters.
  3. Feroce
    A blog about books.
  4. Chocolate and Zucchini
    A blog about cooking with very nice pictures.
  5. OxBlog
    The off-the-cuff political commentary of David Adesnik, a 2000 Rhodes Scholar and graduate student in international relations at Oxford currently residing in Washington DC and Patrick Belton, a graduate student in international relations at Oxford.
  6. Cycle & Run in the Sahara Desert for Charity
    Run by Nicolas Bertrand, the title basically says it all.


  1. Beer, Bikes, Books, and Good Eats
    Blog run by Ruth Anne and Jake. Ruth Anne is a Rhodes Scholar, presently at Merton College.
  2. Falling Into Grace
    Blog run by Rachel, student at Christ Church.
  3. In Other News
    Blog run by Adam.
  4. KRS Adventures
    Blog run by Kristen Rosina.
  5. The Virtual Stoa
    Blog run by Chris Brooke, a politics tutor at Magdalen College.
  6. Praesidium
    Blog run by Ben Saunders.
  7. The Virgin Student
    The title basically says it all.
  8. EternalBlog
    Blog run by Seth Wilson, student at Trinity College.
  9. Sha Crawford’s blog
    Blog run by Sha Crawford.
  10. Militant Moderate
    A political blog run by Ken Owen and Richard Huzzy.
  11. Richard Huzzey
    An eponymous blog.
  12. The Carp’s Blog
    Run by Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo, a blog devoted to Canadian federal politics.


  1. Outside the Ivory Tower
    Blog of a former Oxford student, now living in Vancouver.
  2. Shaikley in the OX
    A blog run by Ali.

Oh, and there’s always my blog: a sibilant intake of breath.

If you want your blog added to the list, just leave a comment. Likewise, if you want the description amended.

Last updated: 22 February 2006

Two Interesting Lectures on Thursday the 10th

The first thing I will attend at Oxford directly related to environmental politics is tomorrow. Professor Patricia Birnie will give a presentation entitled “Exploiting the ambiguities of Article 65 of the Law of the Sea Convention: current practice of the International Whaling Convention” at 12:30pm. It is taking place in lecture room 6 of New College and I encourage anyone interested in the law of the sea to come. Free sandwiches will be provided.

Also tomorrow, at 5:00pm, there will be a lecture at St. Antony’s on the topic: “Marxism: The greatest fantasy of the twentieth century?” Professor Leszek Kolakowski and Professor John Gray will be speaking.

On an entirely unrelated note, several people have asked me to change the font for the blog back to Garamond. This I would be happy to do, since it is a lovely typeface, but for the following problem. When I set the blog up so that Garamond is appropriately legible at 1024×768, the screen resolution used by 67% of readers, anyone viewing the blog on a computer without Garamond, and therefore seeing it in the fallback typeface, sees all the text as ridiculously huge. At present, my knowledge of CSS doesn’t permit me to overcome this, so I will need to stick to fonts that both Windows (83% of readers) and Mac OS (12% of readers) come with by default.

Public service announcement

Windows users should be aware that several companies are now making music CDs that actively sabotage your computer: both by preventing it from being able to make mp3s and by installing trojan horse software that monitors and manipulates what you can do. Sony Music is among those companies. Luckily, you can get around most of it by disabling the autorun feature in Windows XP.

During the next few years, in all kinds of areas, we need to deal with the issue of intellectual property. We need to decide when countries can violate the patents of drug firms, either due to short term emergencies like an avian flu or long term ones like AIDS, We need to decide what fair use means, with regards to copyrighted materials, in an age where copying and distribution has become so much easier. We need to decide what to do about patents, which have the serious potential to be exploited and hamper both innovation and the public welfare, while confering underserved monopolies on those who hold them.

Whatever the answers to these questions are, and some of them are really very tricky, I don’t think they can legitimately involve the kind of backhanded dealing described in the first paragraph here. I don’t buy music from the iTunes music store, for the simple reason that I have no reason to believe I will still be able to use that music five years from now, or on a different computer or device. The nature of ownership, when it comes to things like software and music, is becoming ephemeral and uncertain – except for those people who have illegal copies that evade these feeble protections anyhow. I remember how, with my legitimately bought copy of Half Life 2, I needed to muck around for hours with registration, web updates, and a little Steam applet that seriously restricts how and when you can use the software which you bought. My friends who downloaded it from one or another peer-to-peer service just played.

Happy Birthday Greg Allen

Fireplace in Emily's father's living room

I felt really strange for most of today, while sitting in the DPIR and working on one or the other paper. I felt significantly lighter than usual, as though I should sort-of bounce along like a moon astronaut. Also, I felt this impulse that seemed like a signal that should normally be attached to some need, as if to say VERY X, where X is an impulse like hunger or tiredness. When I checked, however, there was no X to feel VERY about, just some sense that I was missing something big. Such things can reduce one’s ability to concentrate.

Rather later, when walking back from dinner with Emily and her father, it occurred to me that the M.Phil in IR is rather like doing the front crawl. There are two phases: one in which your head is underwater and you are trying to move forward and the other in which you are trying to breathe, so as not to die. Like while swimming, the breathing part is always a matter of necessity and relief. It’s cyclical and it doesn’t last long. For me, it happens between Tuesday evening and Thursday, more or less.

Having dinner with Emily and her father, by contrast, was rather like getting out of the pool. sitting on the agreeable patio, and reading a good book. That has something to do with the relief of being ripped out of the narrow context of colleges, libraries, and shops where I have spent virtually all of the last month. Even though some of the time there was spent having a look at Emily’s paper and some more of it was spent discussing issues relevant to the course, it felt overall like a more thorough kind of non-school than anything else I have done so far. Even going for walks and reading books feels like the breath between two strokes, you see.

Meeting Emily’s father was engaging and worthwhile. It amused me to slip a birthday note (Ave Avi A vie) into the mail slot of Avi Shlaim, who lives next door and whose book I read in Emily’s company a few days ago. Likewise, sitting beside a fire and eating omelette were both pleasant reminders of the enormity of the non M.Phil, non IR world.

Speaking of that world, I feel compelled to respond to something Emily told me. Apparently, a good share of the M.Phil program seems to be reading this blog. (Something similar is true of the college.) My first response to hearing that is fear and the concern that I’ve said something stupid. My second response is the general feeling that people really ought to have better things to do with their time, though far be it for me to tell people what to do. In general, then, I suppose I should offer my greeting to the concealed masses. Your presence forces me to do a couple of things. Firstly, it forces me to at least try and be interesting. Even during days when I wake up and feel ghastly, try to read, do some laundry, and go to bed, I need to come up with something that won’t have people drooping with boredom and slamming shut their laptops in disgust. Now, I should be clear about one thing. I try to be entertaining for the people back in Vancouver as well. The big difference is that, since they are not here, I could probably entertain them most easily in ways somewhat different from those in which I might entertain those in Oxford. It’s the second group – the closer group – that compels me to be reasonably accurate, as well as interesting.

The second, and rather more difficult, thing that I am forced to do is be tactful. As much effort as it can require to be at least a bit interesting, it is much harder to maintain a blog as a relatively sane, civil, rant-free place. When one has the nestling comfort of obscurity all around, these things are not important. When one is standing at the centre of a group of unidentified figures, it comes rather to the forefront. All in all, it will probably be good practice. Please forgive me, in any event, the occasional lapse. Much as I try not to be, I am a fallible creature. Part of the reason for this blog is to help me process my thinking into a more refined form. It is quite possible to believe something for a long time that you instantly see the wrongness of as soon as you are challenged to write it down and explain it. Self-improvement is an aim of the blog, and life in general.

At the moment, however, there is no time for that. I have two papers due on Tuesday that exist, at present, in the state between when the individual components are welded together and laid out according to the design and the part where everything is strapped and attached and the thing is ready to fly on its own.

Many thanks to Emily for a very pleasant evening. Let us hope that the revitalization it has induced will help me to overcome the latest batch of hurdles the program has thrown my way.

PS. One last note to people reading: I would appreciate if you would participate, in some sense. I much prefer a discussion to an extended one-sided rant. I realize that it might be awkward to comment in a space that I basically have exclusive dominion over (though certainly not complete control). Therefore, I suggest that people with nothing in particular to do should consider posting on the IR forum. I really think we might be able to help each other out with things, if not actually get to know one another better.

PPS. To those asking her about it, Emily never promised to get me a job of any kind. She merely indicated that she might be able to set me looking in appropriate directions. It’s quite unfair to approach her with requests for similar treatment, just because I was careless enough to post the initial incident here.

Milan out.

First Bloggers’ Gathering

Bloggers gathered in The Turf

In short, the bloggers’ gathering was a success. It was interesting and enjoyable to meet a diverse group of engaging people, none of whom really have an appearance that screams blogger!, whatever sort of appearance that might be.

The Library Court party afterwards, to which I brought two of the people from the bloggers’ gathering, succeeded in blocking any attempts to work on all the academic things that need to be done. That said, I was not fighting and kicking to make progress on them. Why, there are hours left yet.

This afternoon included a quasi-valiant effort to move forward on the various projects that must be complete next week:

  1. Paper for Andrew Hurrell (Tuesday)
  2. Paper for Dr. Fawcett and Wright (Tuesday)
  3. Presentation on American isolationism during the interwar years (Tuesday)
  4. Statistics Assignment (Wednesday)
  5. Pay fees and battles (Friday)

Tomorrow, all these things will begin to orbit elegantly around the gravitational centre of whatever intellect I still possess: condensing and organizing themselves to the point where they are both internally and externally comprehensible.