Monday, October 31, 2011

God's Asteroid

One of the best descriptions of what you would see ... and the effects of ... a large asteroid hitting the earth.

"A three mile wide, billion ton asteroid hits Europe. This unimaginable catastrophe actually happened five thousand years ago, and astonishingly, there is an ancient eyewitness account, as well as the aftermath described in The Bible.

The “Planisphere” tablet was discovered in the ruined library of the Assyrian royal palace at Nineveh (Iraq). It’s a copy of the night diary of a Sumerian astronomer containing drawings of the night sky. But stars were not the only thing the ancient astronomer observed in that pre-sunrise of 29th June in the year 3,123 BC.

Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell analyzed the Planisphere a sector at a time, decoding the star signs and Sumerian commentary by matching constellations and planets against state-of-the-art programs which can reproduce the night sky from any location and at any time in the last few thousands of years...

Continue reading at

The biblical reference is a bit populist but seems to work with the predominantly American audience on the site.

This morning we shopped at Glastonbury and Street as drizzle infiltrated everywhere from a bland, gray sky. Morrisons were selling octopus: ("quite popular, we had a chinese lady in who makes a sauce from their ink. I'm more of a cod and chips man myself"). We followed his lead.

This evening I went with Clare to the Mass for All Saints. This is the Catholic version of Halloween and we left a big bowl of chocolate bars on the house step with the legend "Help Yourself - One Each". On our return it seemed undisturbed: (last year we had two or three troupes visiting - some quite large). We had carefully chosen confectionary we would be quite happy with ... probably we're good now through to Christmas!


We had the tree surgeons around this morning. They trimmed stuff in the back garden and in the front, and had to cut down the big tree to the left of our driveway entrance, down by the road, as it was completely rotten with fungal infestation. Their work coincided with next door replacing the fence they have in common with us: the tree surgeons were originally contracted to trim undergrowth next door by our neighbours prior to the fence replacement.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Contract ends a little early - back in Wells

No issues - as I've worked before with the client I was able to get the job done faster than they had budgeted. So the deliverable has been handed over after eight days rather than fifteen and I vacated the Reading flat yesterday.

In the evenings, after work, Alex and I could be found lounging in recliners under the glow of his John Lewis uplighters, discussing the affairs of the world. We mused on the condition of Greece: heavily indebted, ridiculously low productivity and falling farther behind Germany every day, the prisoner of powerful vested interests and corruption with no significant social forces to drive change.

What happens when the Germans eventually stop paying?

You could imagine that all sectors of Greek society decide to equitably take their pay cuts, pay their taxes, work longer hours (or show up) and retire much later ... or you could imagine that they will fight like dogs in a box to make sure that they get a disproportionate share from the now-merely-dripping tap. And when that happens we call it a breakdown of society. And the Greek Colonels will be back.

I wonder what the EU will do with a military dictatorship installed in one of its member countries? Send in the Bundeswehr?

Alex thought this eventuality had been under-explored in the media and urged me to write about it here: consider it done.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Terminal Decision

"The princess was beautiful but willful. It was entirely in character that she should wake in the pre-dawn glimmer and leave her chamber unobserved, to walk barelegged in the dew. And it was there, in the old meadows surrounding the chateau, that they took her.

They had been incredibly clever as well as resourceful and, perhaps most importantly, they had been lucky. Our security teams had unaccountably failed to detect their dragonship, hidden with perfect care inside the husk of an abandoned church. The Princess Irena, true to her contrary self, had decided to mark her first day in the newly-conquered province of Aquila by a solitary early morning excursion."

Continue reading ...

This article has been a while in preparation. In the course of researching articles on future weapon systems for I looked into missile guidance systems and discovered that missiles normally use a hunt algorithm called 'proportional navigation'. This basically steers the missile directly at the target no matter how it moves to evade.

Dragonflies do something smarter: they move in such a way that no matter what their target does, the dragonfly always stays stationary in the target's visual field - the hunter doesn't move sideways against the background. The only effect is that the dragonfly naturally looms larger as it homes in. This is call 'motion camouflage' - how cute is that?

So the story wraps up this concept in a little interplanetary adventure where the planet is in a stellar cluster so that space is really, really bright, rather than dark as it is with us. So 'motion camouflage' is quite important as a dark object moving against a bright background will really stand out.

Sadly, the story seems to have passed most people by, judging by the number of 'likes' and tweets it got.


Tomorrow I'm coming up to the halfway point of the current IL2 security contract. Reading is the polar opposite of Wells, being working class, multi-ethnic and home to a small ecosystem of rat-faced, shifty men who hang around in the back streets.

The town centre additionally boasts of swaggering young blokes who seem convinced that by jangling their money loudly as they walk by and then asking if you can 'spare 50p' they are contributing to the fabric of a good civil society.

I slew my glance away and answer with a languid 'No....'.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

An IL2 security contract

Not much activity here recently as I'm busy with a client, conducting an IL2 security review. The work started on Wednesday (Oct 19th) and runs through to November 8th.

As a consequence I'm staying during the week with Alex in his Reading flat. We have established a schedule which finely intermeshes, both in the mornings as we each get ready for work, and in the evenings as we each make use of the Microwave within minutes of each other. Alex has settled on Waitrose one-person meals; I am set up with M&S after a trip to their fine outlet in Frome this morning.

While I'm making money, has four of my articles stacked up:
  • A little story on smart missiles
  • An asteroid impact effects piece - 'God's Asteroid'
  • A new take on Buddhist ideas of reincarnation
  • A thought about reviewing Greg Egan's current 'Orthogonal' trilogy.
However, my continuing excursion into differential geometry and GR is on the back-burner till mid-November.

The clocks go back next week-end. I thought Mr Cameron was going to stop all that nonsense. I hold out little hope for the new 80 mph motorway speed limit either. These may be little wins, but they make a difference and it lowers morale when they're so cheaply and easily abandoned!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Vampire Mutation

I spent the morning putting together a security audit pack and a bunch of document templates. I was meant to be travelling up to Reading this afternoon to stay at Alex's apartment, ready to start a new security project with a client tomorrow. Skype, however, is silent, there are no texts, emails or calls. The project is in suspension - not yet approved.


I wrote the latest article a few weeks back. There's a lively constituency at who obsess with vampires. It was a challenge: write a science feature about them (the vampires, not the fans!). I thought about a sub-species of humanity with a penchant for lapping ... and came up with this.

They said the passenger pigeons were dense enough to blacken the skies. They said the bison on the plains were more than the sand-grains on a beach. But these were as nothing compared to the human cattle that walk the earth today. Never have there been such herds: so pleasingly available, so docile, so very tame.

There have been those who would eat you, consume your flesh, the real life Hannibal Lectors. But that’s a stupid and self-defeating strategy: you humans didn’t get where you are today by tolerating predators. Such ‘cannibals’ are swiftly hunted down and don’t get to reproduce their kind.

You’re much, much worse at spotting social predators. The psychopaths betray your appealing altruism, bedazzle you with their empty charms, cajole favors with intimidating smiles, and never ever repay. They take your money, your virtue and sometimes even your lives. Yes, I think they must have been some of my forebears.

Continue reading.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"We enjoyed it so much ..."

You enter the holiday apartment and idly pick up the comments book. You read entry after entry extolling the beauty of the surrounding countryside, the comforts of the apartment and what a wonderful time was had by all.

So here we were in the holiday cottage we were sharing with Mary and Gerry, my sister-in-law and her husband. The second day the boiler stopped working - we had no hot water for thirty six hours. Eventually the repair man arrived and power-cycled the boiler: miraculously it started working again. He scratched his head, "Maybe a relay's sticking?" On our last day it happened again.

We had been promised WiFi: there was no WiFi. I sat in the lounge with my smartphone watching bits trickle in from an erratic GPRS. If a cow moved in the adjoining field, the datalink collapsed.

The bathroom tap was so stiff that only the adult males in the house could move it (we had four children - Clare's nieces - staying over the weekend).

A previous occupant had managed to smash the shower door leaving shards of glass needles on the floor of the shower as my naked feet soon discovered.

Let me leave aside the fact that we slept next to the boiler, so that when it was working we cooked!

As we left we debated what to write. Into the book went the following words: "Wonderful accommodation and lovely countryside, many nearby sites of interest, we enjoyed it so much." In a separate note left for the landlord we itemised the points above. :-)

Actually we put all these issues behind us during our week there. We relaxed, visited Warwick Castle, Kenilworth Castle and the Black Country Living Museum and all in all had a great time. Some pictures of Clare and myself below.

Plus I got the Google sat-nav to work on my smartphone - brilliant!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Debt (film)

The Sunday Times gave it only two stars, saying it was neither thrilling nor intelligent: just more Holocaust-chic. Au contraire: this story of a botched Mossad operation to snatch a Nazi vivisectionist was both exciting and rather profound. Yes, we liked it.

We're off to Warwickshire for a brief holiday next week. I carefully checked the Vodafone coverage map to discover that our farmhouse is precisely located in a no coverage spot - we can only hope for a friendly diffraction fringe! In our absence, Alex, Adrian and the cat will be tending the house: I'm trying to work out which of them is the more carpet-safe!

Once back, I have a telecoms contract to work on, perhaps a sign that the economy is finally picking up, an extremely leading indicator.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Advance Decision

Imagine it. You've had a terrible accident or a stroke, or you've declined into mindless dementia. You're kept alive by nursing staff and machines. If you could make a decision, you'd wish you were dead - your relatives plead with staff to turn the machines off and remove the feeding tubes. But the Judge says no.

There have been too many cases like this, but there is something you can do. Sign an "Advance Decision" stating what you want to happen should you ever end up like this. Get it signed and witnessed and arrange to have copies deposited with your relations and your GP. Here's the version I used * [download it as a Word document].


To Health Care Professionals:

I, [YOUR NAME], of [YOUR ADDRESS], have the capacity to make the decisions set out in this document. I have carefully considered how I wish to be treated if, in the future, I lose the capacity to consent to medical treatment, or the ability effectively to communicate my refusal or consent.

Date of birth: [YOUR DOB]
National Insurance Number: [YOUR NI NUMBER]

To avoid any doubt, and unless stated to the contrary below, I confirm that the following refusals of treatment are to apply even if my life is at risk or may be shortened by virtue of such refusal.

In the event that I am no longer competent to make decisions on my own behalf, these are the decisions I have made in advance. If I lack mental capacity and also have an advanced disseminated malignant disease, advanced degenerative disease of the nervous system (including MS, motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s disease), moderate or severe brain damage due to injury, stroke, disease or other cause, senile or pre-senile dementia, severe difficulty in breathing (dyspnoea) that cannot be cured, or any other condition of comparable gravity, I refuse any medical intervention aimed at prolonging or sustaining my life.

In the event of any of the above conditions applying, I refuse all life-prolonging treatments, including but not limited to: cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, artificial ventilation, specialised treatments for particular conditions such as chemotherapy or dialysis, antibiotics when given for a potentially life-threatening infection, and artificial hydration and nutrition. I also refuse all life-sustaining treatments including but not limited to therapies whose purpose is to maintain or replace a vital bodily function and without which death would most likely occur as a result of organ or system failure.

I recognise that I am unlikely specifically to have included all possible current or future treatments for whatever health condition may lead to the applicability of this AD. Nonetheless I wish to refuse them. Furthermore I am unable to anticipate all possible circumstances under which this AD might become applicable but believe that any such circumstances would be extremely unlikely to alter my decision had I anticipated them. I am very anxious that new treatments or unpredictable circumstances might be used by my healthcare team to argue that this AD is not applicable and not binding. I wish so far as I can to pre-empt any such arguments.

I do consent to any medical treatment to alleviate pain or distress (including any caused by lack of food or fluid) aimed at my comfort. I do consent to palliative treatment for incurable vomiting or feeling sick (but not for treating any underlying condition causing these symptoms). I maintain this request even in the event that it may shorten my life.

Upon my death I wish to donate all usable organs and I consent to any treatment which is designed to make this possible and to optimise the process.

I have deposited this advance decision with:


Signed: ______________________ Date: __________________


Witness 1

Witness Name : _________________________

Address: __________________________

I witness that this advance decision was signed or acknowledged in my presence.

Signature: _________________ Dated: _________________

Witness 2

Witness Name : _________________________

Address: __________________________

I witness that this advance decision was signed or acknowledged in my presence.

Signature: _________________ Dated: _________________


* Original text from this website.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

A Decade On ...

This was the photo Clare insisted on taking for framing on the mantelpiece, as both Alex and Adrian were here this morning. (They have both since left to see their relatives in Liverpool and thence on to a walking holiday in the Lake District).

The setting exactly mimics a similar couch potato shot she took on Christmas Eve 2001 in our house in Vienna, Virginia, USA (above) when again, the two boys were visiting. What a difference ten years makes! But not much to the cat experience!

Here's the next photo taken on that same Christmas Eve. Clare substituted for me on the couch and the cat is even more spooked.

Push time back another ten years, to 1990, and above we see Clare at a chateau in the Loire valley.

We're now back to the mid-year of 1980 and the garden of our damp flat in Slough, next to the canal. I was working as a computer programmer and Clare was managing the infant Alex, about half-way through her pregnancy with Adrian. We had been married two and a half years.

Paddling at Weston-super-Mare

Some pictures of when Beryl Seel and Clare Youell braved the surging torrents of the north end of the beach at Weston-super-Mare. In the first shot you see them having a rest, soaking up the sun. Next they bravely enter the surf, exposing their very skins to the salt-water. Finally they return, cooler and somehow more centred.

We had a very nice day at the seaside yesterday.