30 July 2008

Today I've Been Mostly Half S(h)aved

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 23/52 (2008 week 31).

27 July 2008

Quote: Decency

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.

[Pablo Casals]

Zen Mischievous Moments #140

The following is from the Feedback column of the current issue of New Scientist
The $500 cable

EAGLE-EYED readers have pointed us to an intriguing offer. The US website for Japanese electronics giant Denon is inviting consumers to pay $499 for what appears to be a 1.5-metre network cable of the type that usually costs only a few dollars. So what's so special about Denon's AK-DL1 patch cord?

According to Denon's website it has "woven jacketing to reduce vibration" and the cable structure is "designed to thoroughly eliminate adverse effects from vibration". In addition, "signal directional markings are provided for optimum signal transfer". Plus, the AK-DL1 is made from "high purity copper" which "will bring out all the nuances in digital audio reproduction".

As puzzled as our readers, we emailed Denon via the website to ask for an explanation of what causes vibration in a network cable, what the adverse effects are, why signal directional markings optimise signal transfer, and how high-purity copper wire brings out the nuances of a digital signal.

Within minutes an email winged back that failed to answer any of our questions. Although the AK-DL1 may look like an ordinary ethernet cable, it told us, "the similarities end there... the cable is designed in such a way that vibration is all but eliminated so that sound being passed is as pure as possible... That being said, this cable is not going to provide you with much of a difference unless used with top of the line equipment across the board."

Denon helpfully gives some examples of such equipment, including a DVD player that costs $3800 and an amplifier costing $7000. So all we have to do to check Denon's claims for the $500 cable is pay $10,800 for something to plug it into. Isn't that nice?

Shortly after this exchange with Denon, we came across an item on the BoingBoing gadget site at www.cablereviews.notlong.com. It quotes "brilliant" reviews of the Denon cable from what BoingBoing describes as "perhaps the best Amazon [reader] reviews page of all time". Our favourite is this: "A caution to people buying these: if you do not follow the 'directional markings' on the cables, your music will play backwards."

Seven Reasons Why People Hate Reason

The current issue of New Scientist has a 13-page series of items on "Reason" with the title "Seven Reasons Why People Hate Reason" from authors as diverse as the Archbishop of Canterbury, mathematician Roger Penrose and linguist Noam Chomsky. Taken as a whole - indeed even taken individually - the short articles are philosphically incredibly deep and quite difficult. They bear reading and I think probably re-reading. As New Scientist doesn't make its full material; available online except to subscribers, what follows is a cherry-picked selection of what are (for me) soem of the highlights and insights. I offer them without commentary, and without the attribution to their specific authors, as food for thought.

From the 16th century, reason came to be seen as opposed to tradition and authority. Faced with the expectation of believing something just because a particular sort of person said so, the reasonable person was now the one who asked: "What are the arguments for this?"

This focus on rationality doesn't speak to how people usually understand their lives and so they reject it for homeopathy, diet pills and [...] stories about planes on Mars. People understand the world in stories, not dry rationality.

Do we know for certain that 2 plus 2 equals 4? Of course we don't. Maybe every time everybody in the whole world has ever done that calculation and reasoned it through, they've made a mistake. Maybe it isn't 4, it's really 5. There is a very, very small chance that this has happened.

[There are] people saying we shouldn't turn on the Large Hadron Collider experiment because a small probability exists that it might create black holes that would annihilate Earth. Sensible scientists say that this is ridiculous, there's no chance. On the other hand, there's a small chance that accepted theory is wrong, so there is a chance!

The central question here is about trust. What do you put your faith in? The kind of faith that Nehru expresses in science is absolute. It is not at all the qualified, provisional acceptance that might suit actual scientific findings. It claims to answer not just factual questions but every kind of social and moral dilemma. It offers general salvation. This sort of unconditional, general reliance on a single authority is never sensible, whatever god it may invoke. No system provides an infallible oracle; different problems need different ways of thinking.

Reason is "dangerous" because it leads you to question faith, not just faith that the world was created 6000 years ago but faith in the secular religions that lead to state power.

[...] governments and big corporations have hijacked the language and methods of reason and science in their PR and advertising to subvert the ability of people to judge for themselves - an end directly opposed to the Enlightenment values we supposedly hold dear.

[...] the concern that science and reason are increasingly seen as providing not just scientific, technical and military fixes, but answers to everything that matters in the world. This alienates people [...] because it leaves no room for morality, art, imperfection and all of the things that make us human. Is it really surprising that so many turn to pseudoscience?

[...] even when we think we are being reasonable, we aren't. Our decisions are based on gut instinct, then justified post hoc - and they are made better when we don't consciously think about them. Researchers are also starting to realise that individual judgements they had long categorised as emotional and irrational may actually be beneficial when seen in the context of a group.

25 July 2008

Something for the Weekend

Purple Flower, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Just to add a little to this summer's weekend here's a miniature purple Petunia growing in a trough on our patio.

Friday Five: Hair!

Haven't done a Friday Five for ages, mainly because the topics chosen each week haven't interested me. But I'll do this week's, if only because it's easy!

1. What type of hair do you have? (Thin, Normal, Thick, Frizzy, etc.)
Thick and slightly wiry and slightly wavy. There's a self-portrait form a month or so ago here, so you can judge for yourself.

2.What color is your hair currently?
Naturally grey (white at the front; not so grey at the back). When very young I must have been very fair (and my hair was dead straight) but I went mid-brown as I got older and got a (natural) wave in my teens. I started going grey fairly young, and it doesn't bother me at all, I actually quite like it.

3. What colors have you dyed/highlighted your hair?
None; ever.

4. If you could dye your hair any color, what would it be?
I've often thought about going completely grey. Or of course I could go lime green. But in all honesty I don't see the point and can't be bothered. Men with their hair dyed to hide the grey always look too uniform a colour so it stands out so.

5. What is your hair's length?
Short. I actually went to the barber this morning so it is now a nicely tidy 3cm or so all over. It stays that way, except that I don't get it cut often enough, but by the time I've been 5 weeks without a haircut it's annoying me. Even as a student in the early 70s I never grew my hair for any longer than a term -- and that was only bone idleness!

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Five.]

24 July 2008

Smackerated Toe

Smackerated Toe, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 22/52 (2008 week 30).

Notice the prehensile toes, just to prove my real ancestry. :-)

16 July 2008


Fingers, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 21/52 (2008 week 29)

14 July 2008

On the Extinction of the Knife

So, our beloved Prime Minister, and his hench-chav-girlie Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, have decreed that carrying a knife (no qualifications; no excuses) is a criminal act. So it must be. Any knife, including the old blunt dinner knife I use in the garden or my 1" long Swiss Army knife, is now illegal in a public place. Mere possession is a criminal offence. The result is to have my life ruined with a criminal record and go straight to jail. (Can't have community service 'cos the tabloids sez "nah"!) :-(

What a complete load of ancient cobblers! Bollox to the fact that the PM's whim does not make law -- in the UK that is the prerogative of Parliament. Nor does the PM absolutely decree how the law determines any miscreant has to be treated -- it is determined by the law itself, by case law and by things such as sentencing guidelines. So much for our new-found love of eating outside the bistro, continental-style -- Heaven forbid, we might use our fish-knife to skewer some feral yoof. And bollox to commonsense ... for if I dispose of an old, blunt, useless knife in my dustbin then it is still a knife and the Recycling Manager (aka. the binman) who takes my garbage sack bag to the dustcart is guilty of an offence for he is momentarily in possession of a knife in a public place.

Scalpellum vulgaris, the knife, that first tool made by man many millennia since, is now spiralling down the steep slope to extinction. All knives are now isolated populations in the properties they inhabit. We have no legal means of moving them from A to B or of acquiring new blood (ouch!) as it has just become impossible to purchase a knife as it cannot be transported, nohow!

These ID10Ts -- politicians, the media and the plod -- have absolutely no clue. The loonies really have taken over the nut house. (How long before nutcrackers are outlawed?) Last one out turn off their food and water supply?! :-(

12 July 2008

Reflection of a Window

Reflection of a Window, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's self-portrait: 52 Weeks 20/52 (2008 week 28).

I think it is also time that I did another 13 things list, mainly for the Flickr "Thirteen Things" group, so here are ...

13 Thinks I Believe

  1. There is no supernatural deity.
  2. All Christians (indeed all theists) are actually Devil-worshippers.
  3. Evolution is the only testable explanation we have for life as we know it.
  4. There is life elsewhere in the cosmos; but we’d better not assume what it looks like.
  5. All life does not have to be based on water and/or carbon.
  6. The scientific method works well until scientists get preconceived ideas or stop testing their (all too frequent) assumptions.
  7. Time, like space, progresses at a variable rate.
  8. Religion has done more harm than good in the world, however religion has also been responsible for much of the great art in the world.
  9. We should all be taught much more about sex and our bodies and this should be discussed openly; this would make us a lot more relaxed and able to talk about such things with each other, our children and medics – which has to be good for everyone’s health.
  10. Freedom of speech is sacrosanct. You are entitled to believe, and say, anything you wish. But I do not have to listen to or agree with you.
  11. Nudity and sex are both natural but do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
  12. There are more things in heaven and earth than we understand.
  13. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

11 July 2008

Management Fun

Jilly over at jillysheep is having a little local difficulty with management. Her manager keeps changing: "Who's our manager this week?". I've had some fun of my own this week ...

Anyone who works in a large organisation will likely understand the following (paraphrased) conversation with a senior manager:

"We've got an interesting challenge with project X and I need someone strong to sort it out. Would you like to do it?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"No, not really."

So you end up clearing your desk, handing off everything you're currently doing -- in mid-project; very unsatisfying! -- to people who already have too much to do, ready to start on the new project "tomorrow".

"What's in it for me?"
"You get to do what you're good at: be a PITA to Z!"

Oh gee thanks. The words "frying pan", "fire" and "jump" come to mind.

What has been really touching tho' is that a number of my colleagues -- including several I would never have expected -- have not just wished me well but said how sorry they are to see me move on and how much I'll be missed. It's almost enough to make me feel quite emotional.

07 July 2008

Fuchsias Dancing ...

Something beautiful for a grey rainy English summer's day.

Measles Endemic in UK

Apparently Measles is now endemic in the UK. Well now there's a surprise -- I thought it always had been! But according to an item the other day on ProMED Mail (the mailing list of the International Society for Infectious Diseases) which is interested mostly in emerging diseases, Measles had become a rarity but is once again endemic. To quote from the item ...

Measles once again endemic in the United Kingdom

A total of 14 years after the local transmission of measles was halted in the United Kingdom (UK),the disease has once again become endemic, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA), the public health body of England and Wales. In an update on measles cases in its weekly bulletin last week, the agency stated that, as a result of almost a decade of low mumps-measles-rubella(MMR) vaccination coverage across the UK, 'the number of children susceptible to measles is now sufficient to support the continuous spread of measles'.

In an earlier update, the HPA reported that all recent indigenously-acquired cases with a genotype in England and Wales had been found to have the same D4 sequence ...

In May [2008], a 17-year-old with underlying congenital immunodeficiency died of acute measles infection, the first such fatality in the UK since 2006 ... The total number of confirmed measles cases in England and Wales so far this year [2008] is 461. In Scotland, there have been 68 cases of measles reported in 2008, of which 51 have been laboratory-confirmed. All of the cases in Scotland were either not immunised or of unknown immunisation status. Only 2 of the cases were imported from abroad ...

The HPA has recommended that health services exploit 'all possible opportunities' to offer MMR vaccine to children who have not received 2 doses ... Europe is facing a measles epidemic, with large ongoing outbreaks for instance in Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

Why am I not surprised? Moreover I don't understand this fuss; we've always had Measles. Yes, I know it can be nasty, but so can 'flu. Why do we have this fetish that we must always rid ourselves so permanently of all diseases. Are we not beginning to get evidence that the population as a whole is healthier for being exposed to all these things?

05 July 2008

What I Done on My Holidays

At the beginning of June Noreen and I had two weeks holiday (well time off work anyway). For a variety of reasons, not least that we couldn't get anyone to feed the cats, not even our local cattery, we didn't go away. As always we intended to have lots of days out but due to basic knackeration and idleness we failed. So here is what I did done on my holidays ...

  • Took lots of photographs of the garden and especially the roses
  • Supervised the gardener reconstructing the compost heaps
  • Got a boot-load of old stuff (dead printers, garden shredder) taken to the tip
  • Proofread Anthony Powell Society quarterly Newsletter and sent it to printer
  • Paid loads of bills
  • Turned out the toot from our wardrobes and threw out a load of old shoes, underwear, etc.
  • Reviewed the draft new Anthony Powell Society website (still under development at the time of writing)
  • Got a haircut
  • Tidied up my PC hard disk
  • Photoshopped lots of photos and posted them to Flickr
  • Caught up on the pile of magazines to read by the bed
  • Had some extra sleep
  • Cooked lamb curry, vegetable curry and trout & pasta
  • Decided not to buy a new bike ('cos I know I'll end up not using it, like I didn't use the last one)
  • Attended a charity trustees meeting, and unexpectedly had to chair it
  • Went to London Zoo
  • Went to the garden centre and bought loads of plants (some acers, a rose, a passion flower, lots of small things) and some terracotta pots for the patio
  • Had a major tidy-up and repotted lots of plants on the patio
  • Stayed up late but still got up fairly early (at least on some days)
  • Had several siestas
  • Went to Kew Gardens
  • Spent lots of time pottering in the garden
  • Got slightly sunburnt
  • Wrote several weblog posts
  • Had sex, several times
  • Totally buggered my sleep pattern and failed to get up early on the days I wanted to (which is why we didn't have as many away-days as planned)
  • Processed a raft of literary society membership renewals and other admin; three afternoons worth!
  • Tried to agree what we should do for an autumn holiday – and failed!

Such is the stuff of doing nothing.

Friday Five: Drink

We've not done a Friday Five for a long time, so here's this week's ...

1. What drink wakes you up best in the morning?
Tea. It just has to be a pint mug of tea. Strong tea, with very little milk -- you have to be able to trot a mouse on it! :-)

2. During the day, what do you drink to keep going?
Mostly tea and Diet Coke. Sometimes fruit juice.

3. Do you drink the recommended 8 glasses of water per day? Why/why not?
No. Why not? 'Cos I drink plenty of other liquid (usually at least 4 pints of tea a day, without anything else) and I don't like plain water -- well neither would you if you had to suffer London's recycled liquid concrete.

4. What are the ingredients of your favorite mixed drink? (Doesn't have to be alcoholic!)
It has to be Gin and Tonic!

5. Are you a coffee drinker? How do you take your coffee, if so?
I hardly ever drink coffee these days, and haven't for 6 or 7 years. I used to like on coffee in the office, but a dowser & healer I knew worked out that coffee wasn't good for me (except possibly in homeopathic quantities) so I stopped drinking it. (And no he wasn't anti-coffee as many of these people are; asked him and he actually dowsed it there and then.) These days I drink coffee probably about once a month -- occasionally I fancy a coffee (has to be strong, like the tea) and I'm almost always left disappointed.

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Five.]