Some - many? - university students, around the world, feel the benefit from joining student bodies. Specific types of student bodies called sororities and fraternities are much more frequent in North America than elsewhere, though parallels can be drawn to some existing European institutions and Zeta Psi opened a chapter in Oxford, here in the UK. By contrast, most other student bodies have a cause or an activity as a focus that associates their participants. Some - many? - university students make their most heartfelt and enduring friendships through the student bodies they join. With thus in mind, I contend that a greater proportion of UK students than North American students will make their most heartfelt and enduring friendships through common interests that they pursue.
Many (though, very happily, not all) of my strongest friends are people I knew through university societies; often it's easy to succumb to nostalgia and look up to see what my favourite societies are still doing years after the fact. Societies come and go over time, and their strength waxes and wanes according to changes in fashion and the presence or absence of strong leadership - which seldom lasts more than a year or two by virtue of the demands of student life. I'm pretty sure that the dear old Oxford University Board Games Society, formerly known as the Diplomacy Society, abbreviated to DipSoc, still exists; sadly it doesn't seem to have an active public web page at the moment. How can this be?
The eleventh UK series of Big Brother is coming to a conclusion on Tuesday. Channel 4 have not renewed their deal to the rights for the show; while it's possible that some other channel might produce their own version in future, people are working under the assumption that this will be the last regular season of the show. However, this series is slightly shorter in duration than the previous one (and other previous series) and there will be an additional short series (almost?) immediately afterwards, expected to feature this year's winning housemate and notable housemates from previous series.
I enjoyed the first couple of series of Big Brother but paid less and less attention over time and more or less stopped watching by series five, though I've usually taken an interest in what's going on through following written descriptions, which are much quicker to read. I've started watching this season about half-way through after the introduction of three contestants on day 31, one of whom, Andrew, is a 19-year-old mathematics student at Oxford University, strongly believed to be at St. Anne's College.
In short, I identify with Andrew more than I have done with any Big Brother housemate, with the proviso above about the extent to which I haven't really paid attention to many of the series, so I don't really know very much about, say, Eugene Sully, who might possibly be the next closest candidate. (Maybe Elizabeth Woodcock from series 2, perhaps?) Other than the student connection, I identify with his sense of humour, his naiveté in some regards, his self of sense-discovery, his reactions to many of the incidents in the house and, well, his ears. He's not every viewer's cup of tea, being far from the dramatic end of the spectrum, but he has made a very strong and positive impression on me. I'm tempted to send a single postcard to him with a short, supportive message, care of his college, but suspect that such aspect of breaking the fourth wall might be considered creepy. Perhaps a blog post that he'll only see if he chooses to look for it is a good compromise.
It does seem that he keeps, or has kept, his online profile very low, which is surprising for someone in his position: an admittedly geeky student at a highly technologically connected university. He has admitted membership of the Oxford Union, the famous speakers' society; his eventual Presidency would seem quite plausible if he fancied a hack's life. I would expect someone with such an obvious passion for mathematics to be part of the Invariant Society, the university's recreational mathematics group, and he has admitted an interest in "robots and sci-fi" which might point me towards membership of OUSFG. It seems likely that I have a FOAF, or a FOAFOAF at worst, who remains an active member of either or both societies. Are there connections?
If you ever see this, Andrew, the very best of luck to you. I think you have conducted yourself so genuinely (and do ignore the trendy haters who claim you to be fake, because - while everybody is different - they don't know what "it"'s like) and so charmingly that you should be proud of yourself. I'm proud of you and hope that everyone at college is proud of you too. That said, don't believe the hype and don't let things get to your head, but don't miss out on the opportunities that come your way as a result. Just get your head down and go and be brilliant at maths. :-)
In other news:
1) The (*counts*) fourteenth Mind Sports Olympiad starts today and runs for ten days until Bank Holiday Monday. This year, it occupies part of the Soho Theatre in London. There has been a significant transfer of authority to get fresh blood involved in the organisation, which is undoubtedly an excellent thing for enthusiasm and one that I suspected I wouldn't see. This year's schedule has forty-five tournaments, plus the overall competitions, which is notably smaller than the counterpart figure for previous years, with often only one tournament taking place at any particular time; however, if the tournaments are bigger as a result and this suits the players better, more power to them. Having worked on the MSO's web site for years, I have some opinions about their new web site, particularly some of its spelling and grammar, but I'm glad to see the MSO movement flourishing and developing in ways that it hasn't for years, if ever.
2) The US Puzzle Championship, used by many countries as an online selection contest for the World Puzzle Championship (held this year in Poland in October) takes place today, starting in about (*subtracts*) nine minutes as I type. Crikey, I'd better get this finished, plus I still have to set up, feed the cats and start the tumble dryer. I suck for not giving you more notice, but if you were interested in this then you'd have known about it already.
3) Sorry for repeating myself for those who have seen me say this on Facebook, but I discovered a novel and imaginitive way to annoy, embarrass and amuse my wife: get her quoted in The Financial Times.
OK, three and a bit minutes until the puzzle shebang starts. This may well be posted in rather an unedited state.
Edited, after the puzzle contest, to add: Going back to student societies, it's amusing to note that a Harry Potter society started at Oxford some years after I left, which may or may not still be running, and which may or may not be linked to the Oxford University Quidditch Club, with an inevitable Varsity Match mooted. Suffice to say that if Oxford require a pretty authentic Ludo Bagman at some point then I can point them to a number of suitably qualified candidates.
Please redirect any comments here, using OpenID or (identified, ideally) anonymous posting; there are comments to the post already. Thank you!