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How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

Sarah Bakewell


Michel de Montaigne is a discursive writer who struggles to follow the thread of an argument, so it's appropriate to find a biography that's similar: and I mean this as a compliment. Bakewell takes an impossible task -- distilling Montaigne's life and thought and relationships -- and presents them as a collection of partial answers to his core question of "how one should live". Along the way she manages to draw out many of the seductive points in Montaigne's style without getting too lost in the flurry of contradictions that he presents.

I don't actually think this book is quite as successful as her work on existentialism, At the existentialist cafe, but it's still an excellent biography that makes we want to re-visit the Essays.

4/5. Finished 29 June 2017.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel


A well-crafted post-apocalyptic tale of how civilisation would collapse promptly in the face of a major epidemic. This is very much in the path of A Canticle for Leibowitz, albeit set in the immediate rather than far future. There are also shades of Robert Heinlein's novella ""If this goes on" as religion re-emerges in a particularly malign form.

The best scene, in my opinion, is the almost banal account of how a group of people behave when stranded in a rural airport, dealing with the sudden realisation that civilisation isn't coming back, help isn't coming, and they'll have to fend for themselves.

5/5. Finished 30 May 2017.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

2 Lecturer/Senior Lecturer positions at St Andrews

We're looking to recruit new academics as part of a large on-going expansion of our academic staff. We wish to appoint two new Lecturers/Senior Lecturers (depending on experience) to join our vibrant teaching and research community that is ranked amongst the top venues for Computer Science education and research worldwide. The successful candidate will be expected to have a range of interests, to be active in research publication that strengthens or complements those in the School and to be capable of teaching the subject to undergraduate and taught postgraduate students who come to us with a wide range of backgrounds. Excellent teaching skills and an interest in promoting knowledge exchange are essential. You should also have some familiarity with grant-seeking processes in relation to research councils and other sources. More details are available on the university vacancies page. Informal enquiries can be directed to Professor Steve Linton ( or Dr Dharini Balasubramaniam (

Strangers Drowning: Voyages to the Brink of Moral Extremity

Strangers Drowning: Voyages to the Brink of Moral Extremity

Larissa MacFarquhar


This is an excellent study of people who make unusual, sometimes (to some people) inexplicable, life choices. The individuals described have all made choices to serve humanity, and so so in many diverse ways: as doctors in the Indian tribal regions, as activists in volatile South American countries, as organ donors to strangers, and so on. These are choices that have been made by many over the centuries, and are only inexplicable if one assumes that people always seek to maximise their own comfort. The stories in this collection sit out on the end of a spectrum that includes teachers, nurses, care workers, and other who find meaning in jobs that satisfy them without necessarily enriching them.

What this book isn't is about, therefore, is "moral extremity", as the sub-title would suggest. There are few moral choices on show, although there are plenty of personal ethical decisions being made. The author makes a valiant effort to pull the psychological forces at play together, but in the end isn't able to identify what "makes" a do-gooder: there are too many paths and too many gradations of doing good to even make a proper definition of when generosity shades over into something more – and that is itself a moving target, as shown by the excellent discussion on the evolution of how doctors in particular have thought about living transplant donors as time has gone on.

5/5. Finished 26 May 2017.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

PhD position in proximal sensing available at UCD Dublin

A PhD position is available at UCD, my old employer, int he area of location sensing.

Ph.D. Studentship Available

Proximal Sensing University College Dublin, Ireland A Ph.D. studentship is now available in the School of Computer Science, University College Dublin, Ireland. The objective of the Ph.D. research project is to develop transformative algorithms for proximal sensing in outdoor environments using active and passive technologies, including LIDAR, imaging, and UWB radar. The research intersects the fields of image processing, digital signal processing, and machine learning. The project is part of a larger research programme, CONSUS, which brings together the Schools of Computer Science, Agriculture and Food Science at UCD and Origin Enterprises Plc. The programme is focused on the development of novel precision agriculture techniques for enhanced crop production. CONSUS is jointly funded by Science Foundation Ireland and Origin Enterprises Plc. The successful candidate will have obtained, or will expect to obtain, a 1st class or 2.1 honours B.Sc. or B.Eng. degree in computer science, electronic engineering, or a related discipline. The successful candidate will have the ability to work both independently and as part of a multi-disciplinary team. The successful candidate will have excellent problem solving and communications skills, as well as an on-going commitment to research. A M.Sc. or M.Eng. degree or commercial experience in a relevant area is an advantage. Prior knowledge of the research topics associated with the project is an advantage. The Ph.D. position is funded for 4 years. Funding includes payment of a tax-free student stipend plus SFI fees contribution. The starting date for the position is September 2017 or as soon as possible thereafter. A full CV giving details of courses completed, marks obtained, relevant experience, and the names of two referees should be sent to: Assoc. Prof. Chris Bleakley School of Computer Science University College Dublin Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. Telephone +35317162915 Email Web