Friday, 30 November 2012

From Amsterdam to Betelgeuse

I somehow ended up with a dutch audiobook version of Douglas Adams' classic sci fi story, The Hitch-hiker's guide to the Galaxy. I go through periods where I will have my ipod connected to the car's hifi, and it popped up on shuffle the other day.

Familiarity with the story, and the distinctive names of the characters made it possible to actually follow what was going on, at least some of the time. I seem to remember that linguists consider the Dutch and English languages to be close cousins, which also helps.

But it was an interesting experience, and one that allowed me to interact with the story in an unusual way. It made me think.

Still, like the cartoon at the top of this post, much of it was "blah blah blah blah blah blah Arthur blah blah blah blah Zaphod blah blah blah", mixed with semi garbled familiar words and phrases, like "teleporten" for example.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

just a couple of interesting things...

First of all, a lake. Here it is.

So it's a fairly circular lake, with a canal flowing into it from the south. Historical imagary goes back to 1998. If I'd posted an image from 1980, you'd have seen a shallow, freshwater lake, a pretty uniform 10 feet in depth, popular with water sports enthusiasts. It's now 200 feet deep in places, and is saline. And the change happened almost overnight. There be minerals down there you see. Oil for one, and salt for another. And back in 1981, drillers on a barge inserted a 14 inch drill into the lake bed, and drilled into a salt mine. With erosion, and the solubility of salt, that 14 inch hole rapidly expanded, and the lake emptied itself into the mine. A massive vortex formed on the lake, and sucked down boats and barges, and a lot of the shores of the lake went too. The canal, which had been an outflow, now became an inflow, and formed a 150 foot high waterfall. The biggest ever in Louisiana. Compressed air blew out of the mine shafts, followed by geysers of water. Fortunately, nobody was killed, but the mine was a write off, and the lake's ecosystem has been permanently altered by the new deeper lakebed terrain, and by the now saline water. This salinity comes not from the salt mine, but from the canal, which is natuarally salty.

Secondly, an airport.

This is Paro airport, in Bhutan. It's 7,300 feet above sea level, and surrounded by mountains that are well over 10,000 feet tall. You're looking more or less to the north here, but the terrain makes it almost impossible to get in that way, so planes have to head straight for the mountain, do a tight turn, and a dog-leg, and finally land southwards, all without the aid of the kind of electronic aids you get at modern Western airports. Aparently there are only 8 pilots in the world certified to land there.

I've tried landing on it in Google Earth, but so far haven't quite managed it.

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Decision day at the allotment

It's now the wee small hours of the 27th of November, 2012. It's my younger sister's 43'rd birthday. Happy Birthday Kate. She's just given birth to a baby girl. She thought she might die in childbirth, as both pregnancies have had complications. Fortunately, mother and baby are both doing well. She won't be having any more.

It's also the date of my allotment inspection. I've put in  quite a lot of work over the last few weeks to get the plot looking something like it should.

Have I done enough? I don't know. It's certainly improved. I could have done more to get the plot looking neat, but that would have entailed spending money, and without any security of tenure, I wasn't prepared to go that far. Requests for paving and tarpaulins and the like on freecycle generated zero response this time. I shall be putting a final couple of hours in when I get up early, later today.

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Sunday, 25 November 2012

n l p

I have an ambiguous relationship with the arcane arts of NLP and hypnosis and all that.

The ambiguety comes from the fact that I don't fully understand it all.

On one hand, it seems to be a load of bollocks. On the other, it undeniably works.

I was watching Derren Brown convince some guy he was in a zombie infested prison a couple of weeks ago. The performance ended with the protagonist walking off the compound with the girl he'd rescued. Brown had used his skills to bring out particular character traits in this guy. More tangibly, as they left the set, a phone, left on a nearby table, rang. The guy picked it up, and moments later, collapsed into a deep sleep, presumably triggered by a word or noise or whatever, implanted previously by Derren.

And of course, it was all captured on video. All? Perhaps he'd interviewed 10,000 people before finding someone malleable enough.

Similarly, Paul McKenna convinced Richard Hammond (He's not a real hanster) that he didn't have a clue how to drive a car, apparently by attaching cars to something  Richard Hammond found confusing. Hammond, intent on explaining the workings of the latest Alfa Romeo, became totally bewildered. Presumably McKenna didn't go through 10,000 Top Gear presenters before he found one malleable enough, so there must be something in it.

Having the ability to manipulate how people feel and think is a natural extension of my current role. Most people fail their test, not because they can't drive properly, but because they're shitting themselves.

So I'm seriously considering doing whatever it takes to become a qualified hypnotherapist.

a) It would really enhance my role as someone who gets people through the stress of a driving test. Driving instructor and hypnotherapist. They're a natural fit really, and to some extent, I'm already doing it.
b) If I get fed up of teaching people to drive, I can get them to pack up smoking instead. It's a living, and potentially a decent living.

Yet it doesn't st comfortably with my pragmatic mind. I don't fully believe in it. 30 months ago, I went to see a hypnotherapist to give up smoking. It went thus:

1 hour - her telling me about how it was dead easy to give up, and that the NRT industry was milking smokers for billions of pounds each year (aided abnd abbetted by the NHS and Government) by getting them to believe it was impossible without their help., her telling me that my desire to smoke wasn't bad or unnatural. And that before I could have a craving, I had to have a thought. Thought being, Cigarette.

She was spot on. Thinking about it now, I have no emotional or intellectual connection to smoking. Even after a few drinks. But these last two paragraphs being next to each other doesn't mean one followed the other.

See, the second bit went on for about half an hour. I lay back in a seriously comfortable leather chair, and donned headphones. Through the phones came a relaxing soup of nondescript piano music, while hypno-lady droned on about how I would wake up to be a non smoker. She's warned me that I might fall asleep, and that this wouldnt matter. In fact I found it impossible to switch off. Her intonations involved a terminal, nasal drawl that I kept wanting to burst into laughter at. A bar of light eminating from the venetian blinds impinged on my awareness. And so. I was aware. I suppose I'd expected to feel sort of stoned or something, but I didn't feel anything.

Finally, she charged me £150. I gave her the money and left, expecting to find I no longer had any desire to smoke. Minutes later, I found that I did. I gave up anyway, because I'd spent a shitload of money on giving up. And I stayed gived up until the money I'd saved by not smoking equalled the money I'd paid to stop.

Some time later, I just stopped. Pretty much, just like that.

So I'd assumed the hypno stuff began with the chair and the headphones, but in a sense, it began on an intellectual level. That's the bit that did it for me. So was that the "real" bit? while I was off my guard or something?

So the whole damn thing is pretty confusing. I bought an expensive book called "Tranceformations" but struggled to get into it. To become a qualified NLP practitioner may cost over £1,000. It could truly make me as a successful instructor. I wish I could switch off my cynicism towards it.

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Graziosa revisited.

The first blog post here at The Whole Damn World was posted on August 19th, 2008. This blog is now 4 years, 3 months, and 2 days old.

That first post just said hello. It explained that I was using google earth quite a lot, and that I was making a blog to share the interesting things I found. Since then, it's broadened out into my general, life blog, sharing the good times and bad, whatever comes along. Still, it's always had, and probably always will have, a focus on the world as seen through this remarkable bit of software. Now, as then, there can be few clearer signs that we're living in an age of marvels than being able to zoom in, in 3 dimensions, on pretty much any point on the planet, and close enough to see, in some places at least, what colour hair someone has.

But you also get, free of charge, a flight simulator that allows you to pilot a plane over that generated landscape. The regular reader is aware of course that my efforts to get to grips with this have also been a sporadic but fairly frequent subject of my posts.

My second ever post dealt with attempting to take off from an island airport, to fly around that island, and to land on the same runway. On that occasion, I crashed. Would I be any better now?

Well I do have a little more knowledge now. For example, at the end of the runway is a number. This marks the bearing (he\ding? - bear with sore head) of the runway. For Graziosa, one end has a bearing of 09, the other has a bearing of 27.  The runway at Liverpool Airport has exactly the same orientation. I thought they should add up to 36, but Manchester Airport's twin parallel runways each have 05 and 23 as their numbers, so I'm barking up the wrong tree a little on this. Still, as the picture below shows, when in flight, you get numbers on the HUD that correspond to that heading.

This time round, I have video capturing software, so if you have 6 minutes and 38 seconds to spare, you can watch it. I've even set it to music. It turns out that I have several tunes of exactly the right length. The love scene from Zabriskie point was as boring as the video, so I went for a bit of classical instead.

As you can see, I managed to land on the runway, although it was a little bouncy. The runway is somewhat obscured by clouds, although the clouds themselves are  a clue to it's whereabouts. Still, a straighter approach would have been better.

Being competent at something doesn't mean never making a mistake. It means when you do make a mistake, you know how to get back in control.

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The island that isn't.

Now and again, Google Earth related stories occur in the mainstream  media. Sometimes, I'll take the time to post here about them.

Today, there's an article on the BBC's Website about an island that's listed on various maps and charts, and also on google maps/ google earth, but at that location, there is only salt water, to a depth of over a kilometre. The BBC even included a graphic that showed the wrong bit of ocean along with the caption,

"Sandy Island can be seen as the shaded area due west of New Caledonia"

So there's a nice irony there. In attempting to show where something isn't, they've shown the wrong place.

Sandy Island isn't over 200 miles to the west of where the picture above thinks it isn't.

And here it isn't.

According to GE, there's a big hole in the world at this point although I had my mouse hovering over the location when I took this snapshot, and it reckons that the ground is 2 feet above seal level, rather than 4,500 feet below sea level. So it looks like some hasty revisionism is going on here.

There is an earlier, historical image, dating from early in 2009.

And it's still not an island, sandy or otherwise. Just clouds and ocean.

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Update: There's been some revising going on on the BBC's page too. They now have updated their photograph to show where the island actually isn't insead of where nobody thought it wasn't.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Moore's Law

I just found an old newspaper page in a drawer. It's dated Saturday July 10, 1999, and features an advert for refurbished  and new PC's.

A top of the range refurbished model would cost you £381.60. It was a Dell P200 with 32Mb RAM, a 1.2Gb Hard Drive and a 36x CD rom player. It also came with a 14" CRT monitor, a sound card, and speakers.

But if you had the money, you could go for a brand new system.

£1,118.00 would get you a new non branded PC featuring an Intel PIII  500Mhz processor, 128Mb or RAM, a masive 10.2Gb Hard Drive, a 3.5" floppy drive,  a 16Mb graphics card, a soundblaster live sound card, a tower case, creative speakers and sub woofer, a 5x speed DVD player, a keyboard and a mouse.

No monitor is mentioned.

So 13 years ago, that's what you could get if you really pushed your budget. It's about then that I got my first PC I think. A 300Mhz system that was overclocked to 375Mhz.

According to Moore's Law, speed doubles every 18 months. By Jan 2000, a decent system would have a 1Ghz processor. By June 2001, a 2Ghz processort. By Jan 2003, a 4 Ghz processor.

What seems to have happened is that raw processor speed just wont go that much quicker than that, and what's happened since is the deveopment of multi-core systems. CPU speed multiplied by number of cores = faster still. My main PC, which I had made about 4 years ago, is based around a dual core 2.8Ghz processor. I spent about £300, but gave the guys that built my system, a hard drive, monitor, operating system disk, and half decent sound card, which allowed them to spend the money on a fast CPU, plenty of DDR2 RAM, and a fairly good graphics card. It's still a pretty quick system, and can handle most modern applications.

Still, improvements keep on coming. My mate Dave has a system that has a similar processor to mine, but it also has 4 hefty SSD hard drives. With no spin up time, it boots up like a greased weasel. The main logjam now is his hard drive controller, and the width of his internet pipe.

So it looks like Moore's Law will continue to apply for a little while yet,  but just like everything else, it's going to be subject to the laws of diminishing returns.

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Thursday, 15 November 2012


My younger (42 years old) sister gave birth to her second, and presumably last human being on 14th November 2012.

I'm a multiple uncle. I am not a father. I don't expect to ever be a father. I'm in a monogamous relationship with  a post menopausal woman.

Monogamous. Gamous. Gamete.

We're biologically hardwired to have intercourse. Our social structures are geared up to encouraging the biological imperative, from anto abortion/anti-contraception strictires to working families tax credit.

But we're also creatures of intellect. Another dialogue is possible.

I enjoy sex, but I think 7 billion humans beings is probably more than enough, at least until we work out how to make things work on/in other planets/solar sytems.

When I was younger, I worked in a creche. I was good at establishing a relationship with children. I did it for several years. So I did my fatherhood by proxy. In retrospect, I think I was motivated by a refusal to grow up more than by a desire to propagate my genes.

Today, I work in a vocation that has a pastoral element. I am fulfilled.

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Monday, 12 November 2012

Tea with artists and intellectuals...

For the past few months, me and Bren have been attending a dinner party on the first friday of each month. Our hosts are a couple who have been part of the local art scene for a long time, and the invite is really extended to me because I'm married to a woman who's an artist and the proprieter of a shop that sells stuff that's been hand made by local craftspeople and artists.

Those present vary only slightly, and include an author, an accomplished photographer, and a variety of other friends and acquaintences of our hosts.

The Author, Michael Carson, told us of some work he was doing in West Kirby, to get a monument erected in the library. The momument honoured a man called Edmund Morel, and Michael told us a bit about his history and deeds.

I was fascinated, so I looked into things in a bit more detail and contacted Dorian Cope. Dorian has a radical history blog, On This Deity, that commemorates a whole load of unsung heroes and I thought Mr Morel would be an ideal addition to her blog. She agreed, but asked me to write something. This wasn't really what I'd expected, but I rolled up my sleeves and spent a good few hours researching and writing an essay.

The date I chose to assign was the day Morel died, as so many of the on this deity entries are, and so it was that Dorian contacted me this evening to tell me that my essay would be going up on the 12th November. And so it has.

So thank you very much to Michael Carson, for bringing Morel to my attention. Thank you too, to Dorian herself, for suggesting that I actually write this, rather than just leave it to her. I found that I enjoyed doing it, and I'm proud to see something I've written published in such a place as On This Deity.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Another bump

I got hit today. Just a minor bump. At a roundabout. It's the 4th time I've been rear ended and it's starting to get rather old.

It doesn't appear to have done any damage but I still have to get the car checked out as there could be deformation of the chassis that isn't visible from the outside.

It was 6 in the evening, and the roads were very busy. My pupil had struggled with roundabouts on the previous lesson. I'd intended to concentrate on roundabouts for this lesson, but he did his theory test yesterday, and passed it, so our lesson plan became Drive to my house, book test using house wifi, do whatever with remaining time.

As we got to the B and Q roundabout, a major motorway intersection roundabout on the outskirts of Wallasey, we were in the left hand lane. In the right hand lane there was a Transit van. The driver of the van found a safe gap and went.

Experienced drivers realise that in this situation, the vehicle moving away on the right makes a shield. If anyone is coming from the right, they will smack into the van, not into us. But my pupil, being a learner had not this skill. The guy behind us, meanwhile, had a clear view of what was coming from the right, since he had no van next to him. He started going, presumably while still looking right.

My pupil now had a view to the right, and as it was clear, he started getting ready to go. At that moment though, there was a now familiar bump, and it quickly became apparent that we'd been hit from behind. I got out and had a quick look, but it didn't look like there was much to see at the back of my car. I got back in, tok control, and moved the car onto the verge at the side of the road, expecting the guy in the car behind to do the same thing. He didn't. He drove alongside us, gesturing to say he was going off somewhere or other and away he went. I took his registration details as he went, and committed them to memory.

We were now parked in a difficult and potentially dangerous position. I swapped us around, and eventually found a gap in the traffic and drove on. There was no sign of the car that hit us. I drove to my house, and booked a test for my pupil, and while I was online I emailed Merseyside Police givng details of what had happened. I also checked the lights at the back of the car. They all work. There is no obvious damage, at least not by the light of a streetlamp.

All rather unfortunate of course. I had to report it to the police because it will cost me money to have the car checked for damage. The guy just wanted to get out of the way, but he shouldn't have left the scene without exchanging details.

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So what happened? Well the next morning, I had a look at the car in daylight, and there wasn't so much as a scratch on it. I had no sign of any injury. As far as I knew, neither did my pupil. I had to go see the police but I didn't really want to see things taken any further. The policeman I spoke to was also disinclined to pursue things as there was neither damage nor injury. So that's it. Nothing more to add. Move on folks, nothing to see, etc.

Elite: Dangerous

In these days of multi-core processors and 1024Mb dedicated graphics cards, it would be easy to look with some distain on the games I used to play way back when having a computer in the home started to take off.

There was an awful lot of dross out there. We knew no better of course, but we'd happily play derivative clones of a few basic concepts. When Elite came out, it was totally unlike anything else that had gone before. I'd have killed to have owned a BBC B computer just so I could play it. Eventually, it came out on the ZX spectrum, which is what I had, and I was able to finally play it to my heart's content. I still occasionally fire up the old Cobra MkIII as the original game is now abandonware, and is relatively easy to find online.

There are also more modern versions of the same game, that use fancy graphics and what have you, while staying fairly close to the spirit and feel of the original.

When 16 bit computer systems came out, a sequel, "Frontier" was developed. When I got an Amiga back in the early 1990's, I made sure I got this too, and I spent many happy hours doing boring repetitive trade runs and building up to a fully kitted out, and near as damn it unhurtable Panther Clipper.

Frontier is also now available as shareware.

There was a half arsed Elite 3 as well, but I never really took to that somehow.

Anyway, David Braben, who with Ian Bell, wrote the original game, is trying to get a massive multiplayer all singing all dancing modern version up and running using crowdsourced funds to get it off the ground.

I'm sorely tempted to pledge £20

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Saturday, 3 November 2012

A pithy aphorism

"The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise"

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