Skip to main content

Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity

Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity

Prue Shaw


There aren't many books or poems that need (or deserve) another book to explain them, but Dante's Commedia is one, and this is an excellent guide.

Reading Dante isn't the usual guide book, though. Instead of following the structure of the poem, it picks out a few themes (love, power, the use of language) and traces them through the complete hierarchy of hell, purgatory, and heaven. Along the way it provides a vital guide to the social and political context of 14th century Italy and some sights in Florence to see and relate to Dante's time. Linking to one of my other great loves, it's also full of illuminated letters and images used in the various editions of Commedia (although sady not in colour). For someone like me who reads Dante in translation, it both highlights the effects that only come through in the original, and acts as a spur to learn Italian if for no other reason than to enjoy Dante more.

One other thing that I think I should note is the physicality of the book itself. It's beautifully presented, with deckle-edged (unevenly torn) pages, and typeset very sympathetically. Altogether a delight to read, although often quite intense.

5/5. Finished 11 April 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

PhD studentships in St Andrews

The School of Computer Science has a number of fully-funded PhD scholarships available.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone interested in working on complex systems, complex networks, sensor networks, or situation recognition. You can find more details about what I'm interested in here. I'm particularly interested in people wanting to cross disciplines somewhat, into applications in environmental science, medicine, or the digital humanities.

The full advertisement is here. Deadline for applications 31 March 2015.

Shackleton's Whisky: The extraordinary story of an heroic explorer and twenty-five cases of unique MacKinlay's Old Scotch

Shackleton's Whisky: The extraordinary story of an heroic explorer and twenty-five cases of unique MacKinlay's Old Scotch

Neville Peat


Two biographies for the price of one! – of an heroic adventurer and a classic whisky.

The book is in two parts. The first is the history of Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition of 1907. Peat manages to convey the emptiness of the Antarctic and the struggles and successes of the expedition. He does an excellent job of combining the adventure, the science, and the hardship that the away team underwent – and indeed those that happened on the long trip from England to Antarctica via New Zealand.

The second part is the story of the whisky's temporary recovery back to the distillery to be tasted, tested, and re-created by blending modern whiskies. Anyone with any interest in whisky will find this fascinating, both the processes involved and the taste of the resulting dram. The very idea that it's possible to re-create an old Scotch so faithfully is quite remarkable, and I'm very tempted by a bottle.

The link between the two parts is a little tenuous in places, not least because Shackleton, as a teetotaller, studiously avoided talking about the drinking habits of the expedition in his books, so Peat is reduced to pointing out what isn't mentioned. That's hardly his fault, and it's a limitation that doesn't really reduce the pace of the story or the centrality that century-old whisky has for Antarctic exploration's human side.

4/5. Finished 09 March 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Gone Girl

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn


I have to admit I saw the film before reading the book: and the book's better. It's not a book to read if your relationship is in any way shaky.

It's a close-run thing, but it's definitely better for the story to have the direct feed into the characters' innermost thoughts. Both the protagonists are well and deeply drawn. It's a depressing story, of course, the tale of a marriage doomed by stress and indifference, before being "saved" – if by saved you mean the husband being trapped into acquiescence with his wife's ideal. The sting in the tail, of course, is that he's not entirely unhappy with this outcome, as it makes him in some senses a better man: he's passed through anger and confusion and come to an understanding with his admittedly psychopathic wife.

5/5. Finished 08 March 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

PhD Studentships at University College Cork

There are PhD positions open at University College Cork in the area of video processing.

PhD Studentships at University College Cork in Ireland

Closing Date for Applications: None, positions will remain open until filled. Applications will be reviewed at as soon as they are received.

Project: An Internet Infrastructure for Video Streaming Optimisation (iVID)

The Mobile and Internet Systems Laboratory (MISL) in the Department of Computer Science at UCC is an internationally recognised research centre focused on innovative networking research. iVID is a new research project funded by Science Foundation Ireland to investigate the use of software defined networking (SDN) techniques to optimise the delivery of streaming video. A team of 5 project researchers will work on iVID, including 3 Ph.D. students. The project will involve collaboration with AT&T, EMC and the University of California Riverside.

Applications are invited for fixed-term studentships (annual value of €18K, plus fees) from suitably qualified candidates who wish to undertake a PhD within the Department of Computer Science. Applicants should have a Masters degree in computer science or a closely related discipline, although applications from truly exceptional students with a bachelor's degree will be considered. Ideally, applicants will have some project experience in the areas of video streaming, software defined networks, or more generally network protocols. Applicants must have strong mathematical ability and an interest in systems programming and experimental computer science. Applicants must demonstrate good inter-personal skills, and a high standard of spoken and written English. The positions are open to applicants of any nationality.

How to apply: Applications by email to Mary Noonan and must include "PhD Studentship iVID" in the subject line. Applications must include, in PDF format only:

  1. 1300 word personal statement explaining your interest in the project and networking research;
  2. full CV;
  3. copy of transcript(s) showing names of all courses taken and grades achieved; and
  4. summaries of projects (BSc/MSC), internships and relevant work experience completed.

For more information on MISL and the Department of Computer Science, please see the links below.