Thursday, October 25, 2007

Knowing Too Much

As helpful as your new reading material mentions of "The Bible" and "The Utimate Guide To Fellatio" were yesterday, I decided to go with something else. (Let's face it, one I have already read and the other I could write myself.) On my way to my physio appointment with Drew, The World's Cutest Physiotherapist last night I stopped by my local bookstore for a browse.

Can I just say that the true measure of civilisation is late night bookstores, in my humble opinion.

So, I picked up a copy of the biography of Alan Turing by David Leavitt, "The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing And The Invention Of The Computer". I've only ever known bits and pieces about Alan Turing; the fact that he was a mathematics whizz, that he somehow broke the enigma machine ciphers of the Germans during the second world war, that in doing this he is credited with paving the way for modern computing, that he was gay, that he was found to have committed acts of 'gross indecency' by the moral judges of the day, was subjected to estrogen treatment to 'cure' his inversion and ultimately took his own life.

Not a cheery story by anyone's stretch of the imagination, but a fascinating one. One that highlights the hysteria of homophobia. I mean, nice way to treat a man who probably changed the course of the second world war and had a role in saving thousands of allied services lives.

I'm only 40 pages in, so it's probably not fair to 'review' the book yet. It's interesting to read though that despite the oppressive attitudes of the day that he was no closetted pansy, that Turing accepted his homosexuality with the same matter of fact nature that he accepted mathematical thruths. His comparative openness about it seems to have contributed in part to his downfall.

As a 'gay novelist' Leavitt has written some novels I've enjoyed very much. "The Lost Language of Cranes" for example, which he wrote as quite a young man. He was somewhat of a gay wunderkind (gaykind?, wunderqueen?) for a while there.

This is his first non-fiction work I have read, and at the moment I'm slogging through over a dozen pages of the history of the main players in higher mathematics. It serves its purpose as background, but I'm kind of hoping we can move on soon. I must admit that I find maths a little dry, and so it's almost like I have to blow the dust of the crackling and crumbling pages right at the moment. The bits about Alan himself have been interesting though, so I'm sure it'll start to kick along once I get past this. It's more about my interests probably, than Leavitt's writing. Just how do you make Russell's Theorem or Mathematica Practica sexy anyway?

[Updated: I might be in trouble. I just had an early lunch and read some more and now I'm skipping. You know, like when you read something that has great wodges of French or Latin in it and you sort of read along and go yadda yadda French yadda yadda or blah blah Latin blah blah in your head? I just checked ahead and there are pages and pages of this before I get to the bits about Turing's life. So maybe it's more about the computers than Turing himself after all. I'll persevere. The maths will not best me. Talking Barbie was right, "Math is hard!"]


thombeau said...

Sounds good!

I've just finished 2012, by Daniel Pinchbeck, a fantastic read about the end of life as we know it; and an in-depth biography on Jean Genet, by Edmund White. Both are highly recommended.

The Other Andrew said...

Sounds interesting! Almost as interesting as "The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio"! :)

Jodie Sorrell said...

Don't knock the UGtF, it's been very informative for a woman who's been married for many years. ;-)

The Other Andrew said...

Oh honey, it's a subject that I never tire of. Plus, it's always worth having a good knowledge base about these things!

Jodie Sorrell said..., thanks to the UGtF I know all about the base!

The Other Andrew said...

That's a usefull tip!

F'nar f'nar.

John C said...

"Just how do you make Russell's Theorem or Mathematica Practica sexy anyway?"

Get one of Lindsay Lozon's utterly gorgeous boys to read them aloud while wearing nothing but white boxer briefs...

Just hope the book doesn't go into any detailed explanations of what Turing Machines are; it's a serious brain-bruiser.

Turing was a Manchester resident after WW2, although I believe he actually lived for most of the time in Wilmslow which is a separate town south of here. But he worked here and the council very cleverly placed a statue of him mid-way between the Technology Institute and the nearby gay village.

jt said...

As helpful as your new reading material mentions of "The Bible" and "The Ultimate Guide To Fellatio" were yesterday, I decided to go with something else. (Let's face it, one I have already read and the other I could write myself.)

L. Ron Hubbard has already proved how easy it is to write a bible and Neal Stephenson touched on the interplay between mathematics and fellatio (however briefly) in a couple of early chapters of his novel Cryptonomicon.

Even though mathematics may not be a favourite, I'd hope you stick with it; Turing's role in advancing a nascent field of computer science was profound.

The Other Andrew said...

John C, that's an interesting bit of background! Speaking of background, my parents were from Middleton Junction (mum) and Oldham (dad), not far from your part of the world. They had moved to Morecambe by the time I was born, otherwise I might have been born near Manchester too.

JT, a link between fellatio and maths sound intriguing. Suck my integer, bitch! Yeah, you want that big algorithm don't ya?

I'm going to persevere with the background theories, but really I'm hoping to learn more about Turing's life and place in history.

The Other Andrew said...

John, I meant to say also that your point about gorgeous boys in white briefs is a very good one! In fact, I'm making a point just thinking about them.

mrpeenee said...

I hope you like the Turing book, I remember The Lost Language of Cranes as sort of airless and never understood why it was so well regarded.

John C said...

Middleton and Oldham is Coronation Street-land so I don't blame your parents for moving! Morecambe is a lot more salubrious.

The Other Andrew said...

I visited Middleton, Oldham and Morecambe for the first time in the late 80s (we came to Oz when I was a small child). My memories are fun, but I have to say that it made life in Oz seem jewel bright by comparison. I don't mean anything insulting by that, but I think I'm better suited to the climate and lifestyle here.

My memory of the day in Morecambe is that it was pretty dreary, grey, with a concrete and pebble beachfront and lots of tacky entertainment places. The 'poor man's Blackpool' apparently. It might have changed since, but I wasn't overly moved by it. :)

John C said...

Andrew, don't ever apologise about your lapidary sunshine! I've rarely been as depressed as I was two years ago when I returned from the brilliant light (and people) of California to the strained-through-dishwater smear that passes for sunlight up here. I still miss that.

I grew up in Blackpool as it happens. A wretched place that's now a haven for those gay men who love the tawdry and vulgar. (Typically, all the gays arrived as I was leaving!) Think of it as the Anti-Fabulon.

The Other Andrew said...


I get Seasonally Affective Disorder after a couple of overcast days, I could never do 'Up North'. Hey if you ever want some lapidary sunshine, come to Oz. You'd be welcome. We greet people in style here (bubble transport, house droppings, crowds of tiny people etc).