Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Act of Creation

Portrait of the artist working on a large canvas.

Notice the concentration Clare brings to the task.

This snow-scene is destined for the elder son's flat in Reading.

Sign of the times: The Economist today has an article about loop quantum gravity.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The next book: "On Interstellar Warfare"

Inspired by Herman Kahn's classic "On Thermonuclear War", read when I was a teenager, I am considering "On Interstellar Warfare" as the next book topic. Read the outline here. Feel free to email me with comments - (I truly believe there is a gap in the market in this intersection of evolutionary psychology, advanced telescopes and weapons theory ... trust me, it would sell!).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Audit 'du jour' (... a la Bridget Jones) ...

State of health.

Still recovering from bad cold (like half the world). What is it about Autumn?

State of exercise.

Poor. The bicycle project is still-born. This was the idea to buy a new bicycle and to exercise using it vigorously two or three times a week. I had to abandon jogging, which I did do regularly, on account of leg and knee pains. Result: bike bought but not much used. Reason - I guess the current consulting assignment just leaves no time for it.

Books to buy.
  1. Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion
  2. Rupert Smith's The Utility of Force
  3. Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics
  4. Edward O. Wilson's On Human Nature
Still some books from the previous Amazon round to finish first, though.


Revisit Chuang Tzu and Tao Te Ching for some insights on contemporary events. Factor in E. O. Wilson's remark (reported in today's Sunday Times) that the basic fact about humanity is that 'We are all tribesmen really' - a remark motivating evolutionary psychology (vs. the 'standard social science model' - ref). There is then something interesting to say, from that vantage point, about Taoist philosophy.

Note 1: how could Taoism either be rooted in, or consistent with, evolutionary psychology?

Note 2: I leave religion per se out of this. See Richard Dawkins.

Film to look forwards to.

'Becoming Jane' - due out next year. Biopic of Jane Austen.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Salisbury Plain in late September

This afternoon we drove to Everleigh and walked on Haxton Down. This is at the centre of army armoured vehicle training, and we mostly walked on the tank trails. Military aircraft were doing circuits above us, and parachutists dropped in the distance.

It was a remarkable late September day. Low twenties and a warm wind - still jeans and tee-shirt weather. Above our heads the clouds were laid out in cloud streets (see picture) and it was the classic Salisbury Plain ‘big sky’: like you could see for miles in all directions, and the universe filled half a dome above.

No-one makes much of the positive effects of global warming, but for England, let’s not pretend they’re not there.

Why we didn’t go to the Cinema tonight

A previous entry described our recent visit to the Vue cinema at Basingstoke. The film which attracted us then was the Internet-fuelled smash, ‘Snakes on a Plane’ - click on the link to see my review.

In the event, that movie started late due to projector problems and we were handed a couple of ‘free tickets’. Clare suggested today that we use them to go see the Helen Mirren fuelled smash called ‘The Queen’.

Look closely at the ticket. The front says we can go to a Vue cinema to see a performance of our choice. The back says that the ticket can be revoked at any time, and can’t be used to get a reservation.

I imagine some bright economics-trained marketeer at Vue decided the ticket could be used as a bulk filler where seats could not be sold anyway. The marginal cost to serve an additional customer at the cinema is essentially zero, and a seat which would otherwise be empty earns no revenue anyway.

The problem with undergraduate economics is that it misses the human factor. The implicit licence to renege makes the cinema look like a cheat. Clare said that she doesn’t much like cheats and that her chances of going to the Vue again are slim.

So there you are - they might have been better just to stick with saying sorry (or giving us a genuine ticket).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Archaeology at Woodhenge

Sunday afternoon, it's a cloudless sky and 26C, so we visit the rather beautiful Heale gardens and then drive on to Woodhenge.

Just a little to the north of the better-known Stonehenge, Woodhenge is around 4,300 years old. Concrete posts mark the old timbers in concentric ellipses as shown in the picture below (Clare to right).

We were interested to see that in the next field there was a full excavation going on. A researcher from Bournemouth University explained to us that soil from the encircling hill had built up a layer approximately 1.5 metres deep. The neolithic soil level was about an inch above the basal chalk layer, and they were excavating a neolithic round-house with poles around its perimeter (picture). About 4,500 years old.

Somewhat to our surprise, we saw Phil Harding, from the TV programme "Time Team" with a group of archaeologists to one side of the dig (he's the big guy in shorts with the hat in the centre of the picture).

We manage to make it off the site without asking for an autograph ...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Falling by the wayside is also OK

“The old man rose from his hard-won seat and offered it to the old lady. A tiny recoil - repressed suspicion - was followed by a grateful look as she took his place. The ”yoofs” thought it was hilarious.

“Is that the best you could get off with Granddad?” was one of their more printable remarks. The oldster was imperturbable. “Courtesy to others is how we nourish the bonds of our community” was his short response. This irritated the pair - they did so hate to be patronised. “Eff-off, you f***er” was delivered with real menace as their mood turned.

Not to be intimidated, he replied thus. “I do not address your present selves, for I see that you are beyond considering what I am saying. I speak only to plant a small memory for your future.“

At this, they eased themselves from their seats and roundly kicked the living sh*t out of the senior. As he lay on the floor of the train, clutching his ribs and spitting blood he choked out: “We get crushed by falling rocks and judge it an accident of fate. Perhaps you two are only an accident of fate. I spoke to you as one does not speak to rocks, because there may, now or in the future, be something human in you. But I could be wrong: some seeds are cast by the wayside. It is a possible outcome, and not to be complained about.”

Whether the old one died or not is immaterial. He had come to terms with all possible consequences of his situation.”

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Samuel L. Jackson on a plane (with snakes)

Went to see "Snakes on a plane" last night in Basingstoke (Timeout film review here).

It is mildly interesting to speculate why this film is still watchable, despite a plot with so many holes that it resembles a fisherman's net; cardboard characters cut from the book of standard aircraft/police-movie stereotypes; and a lack of any viewer-involvement with the fate of anyone in this film (not excluding the snakes).

I must admit I thought the most moving moment was right at the beginning, when the upside-down-suspended public prosecutor's head becomes the target of a baseball bat wielded by the chief bad guy, in Hawaii. I thought he was quite noble (the former, I mean).

No, on reflection, I believe the film kinda works because the director so doesn't care about any of the standard stuff. He just wants to (a) showcase lots of snakes doing Freudian things with generally well-turned-out-but-frequently-only-semi-clad young people of both sexes and (b) showcase Samuel L. Jackson giving a cool masterclass in the art of being the man.

These two objectives are enough to keep the film flying at about the same level as the South Pacific aircraft itself in the latter stages of its journey.

The film is also recommended if taking your best gal, as she is likely to gasp, with her hand over her mouth, and hold onto you tightly at some of the more gory serpent moments. Perhaps that accounts for the Internet hype. Two hours of CGI-fuelled intermittently-pleasurable nonsense out of your life.