Monthly Archives: September 2011

Mentally scarred by a music video

I have always liked Hall & Oates (it’s my age I suppose, if I need an excuse (which I don’t because Daryl Hall is a fine soul singer)).

This song is one that can get to you if it comes on the radio, which it does. ‘…Up in the morning look in the mirror
I’m worn as her tooth brush hanging in the stand
my face ain’t looking any younger
now I can see love’s taken her toll on me…’

It’s a good lyric but when you watch this original video it’s hard to take it all quite so seriously.

Aesthetic health warning: stack heels, dodgy seventies outfits/hair, brief guitar solo in satin dinner jacket ensemble AND the quality is awful with the sound coming in really LOUD.

Fortunately everyone’s sense of humour appears to remain intact.

‘Union of Stingy Workaholics…’

How feckless those Greeks are in some version or another I hear more, or less, every day.

So, as the Germans vote on the eurozone rescue package, I thought I’d post this map and accompanying blog ‘Europe According to Greece. And Sunlight’ it kind of puts the whole thing in a funny, yet perceptive, perspective.

And the blogmeister ( is pretty even-handed in terms of national stereotypes; if you click through to the Mapping Stereotypes link you’ll get the World According to Every Nation, nearly.

Of course, this business of the euro, national debt, and the likelihood of Greece eventually defaulting is a serious business. As the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso calls for further integration to save the whole shebang the eurozone continues to creak like a ship about to go down in a storm.

Personally, I think his proposed 0.1% tax on financial sector transactions is a top idea, but only if it were implemented globally to stop those crafty bankers scurrying off to some offshore tax haven to conduct themselves shadily. And that’s not going to happen because, as much as humankind thinks it advances, we can never put aside our own backyard concerns to think holistically about the good of the planet and all its people. Maybe we’re just not wired like that anyway. How hard is it to keep in mind the family on the rocks down the road when you’ve got your own to worry about?


Consulting the Coracle

I know it’s not really a coracle, but never mind.

At least I’ve spared you another delirious rambling about:

* particles *
~ high energy cosmic rays ~
…and a drawing of a neutrino…

Coracle says no

Is E=mc2 broken?

Well, we can’t actually say. As it stands, the experts don’t know if their own experiments with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland have violated the laws of physics, or if their methodology is flawed. So, after three years of wayward results (where neutrinos appear to arrive in Italy before they left Switzerland?) they have turned the results over to their peers for verification or otherwise. If they are right, then Einstein is wrong, apparently.

I have read a bit about Einstein and I think a cool guy like him would take all this in his stride – ‘never lose a holy curiosity’ is one of his quotes. Not something you imagine a man who had to be right all the time saying.

The fact is that the nefarious neutrino beam in question has been consistently recorded travelling the 730 km from (a) Switzerland to (b) Italy a whole 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light, thus breaking the laws of universe and violating the Standard Model of Physics.

Professor Brian Cox was on the radio last week explaining it. Well he didn’t really explain it because it is, currently, inexplicable given all that is held to be true about physics, but he said if it is true it could be that the neutrinos are taking a shortcut through an alternative dimension.

If I were a neutrino I probably wouldn’t bother with the alternative dimension shortcut, consequently breaking the universal laws of the universe to just save myself 60 nanoseconds (in case you were wondering 1 nanosecond is one billionth of a second). After all it’s hardly enough time to scribble a postcard from the Fourth Dimension with Wish You Were Here!

The Hadron Collider fires these neutrinos, or collides them, in a beam and whilst everyone of a scientific bent sounds mind-boggled, I have read that this was one of its very functions, by design. Namely, to explore the intersection between general relativity and quantum mechanics (I got that from Wikipedia).

I find quantum mechanics easier to follow than general, or indeed special, relativity, because you don’t need to be Einstein to get it, and because there is a cat in it. And some string.

Superstring and Schrodinger’s cat. Yay.

My own wondering goes like this. The Large Hadron Collider is made by man, but it is not strictly-speaking a naturally occuring phenomenon, so if it has broken the laws of physics which Einstein based on the laws of the natural universe (as he understood them) is that such a surprise? Perhaps *relativity works most of the time, for most things. That shouldn’t preclude a machine that does something different should it? After all Star Trek had a teleporter… On the other hand the CERN scientists nanosecond clock might just be wrong.

Sorry. Here’s some proper scientific shizzle.

The Culprit: The Large Hadron Collider

*this may be a poor comparison, but Newton’s apple would never have fallen on his head if Lincolnshire was on the moon. Which some may say it may as well be…

**Edited to add: I had a bit of a read about the level of energy being created in the LHC and it seems there might be a bit of a clue in there. Apparently, the energy being created to smash the particles about is equivalent to that of high energy cosmic rays that are naturally created and hitting the earth’s atmosphere all the time. But, some of these high energy cosmic rays are so high energy that they also contradict the predictions of special relativity.

It’s my understanding that although these cosmic rays were discovered in 1912 by someone in a hot air balloon called Victor Hess, the really high energy ones have only been observed since the 1960s, after Einstein’s death. I might be wrong; I may be a bit lost now too. Nevertheless, these high energy cosmic rays are also subject to the same questioning as the research at CERN: are the measurements wrong? Another theory is that they originate from another galaxy. I like that one; if they did we might have to come up with some new laws called the inter-galactic laws of physics.

I’ll get on to that in the morning. Beam me up Scottie.

Consumer ‘choices’ we just don’t need

My poor head sometimes makes dodgy links between things and to be shot of them I dump it on here (that’s a bad pun which might become clear by the end of the post). So that’s a warning, what follows might be a load of old shit that doesn’t make much sense. I have tried to get it to cohese, but it’s not quite there. If you are enjoying your Sunday morning, get out now whilst you still can.

This week I read this article, about the emotional part of the brain being involved in complex decision making processes. It referred to research that suggested that trying to make complex decisions on a purely rational basis will lead to a greater chance of your making a poor decision. For example, I can immediately apply it to punting decisions; it explains why all the study of collateral form in the world won’t necessarily find you the big Saturday handicap winner… The research reminds us that there’s a lot more going on in your subconscious mind that can usefully contribute to thought processes than you might be aware of.

The example used in the opening paragraph of the linked article (How Should We Make Hard Decisions) is about the choice a shopper makes about which toothpaste to buy. Because there are so many types of toothpaste, promising to do so much for you, the simple entry of ‘toothpaste’ on your shopping list can turn into a demanding cognitive choice as your rational brain attempts to sift through and compare all the information on offer. The article’s conclusion is that you will buy the one that ‘feels’ the best.

I kind of knew what the writer was on about. I have referred to that moment before on here, when I become trapped in a supermarket aisle staring for ages trying to make a tortuous purchase decision. This process can be exacerbated when I am hungover. But as hard as I thought about the toothpaste example, it just didn’t ring true. I always buy the one that’s on offer, usually placed at the end of the aisle. I have no feeling other than the one about having saved a quid, or whatever.

The point is we don’t really need all those types of toothpaste to choose from do we? It’s a choice, but it’s a false one, because, as the research suggests, we can’t process the choice cognitively anyway. I buy what makes me feel good in terms of saving money, you might buy the one with a red, blue and white stripe. The concept of choice is an illusory one in this case because we buy based on feel or habit, or pricing. And even if we make a ‘poor’ choice it is unlikely our teeth will fall out immediately as a result.

Actually, there’s a whole philosophical debate to be had there about free will and toothpaste, but I am too addled for that today. Let’s just say, the research is good, but the toothpaste example just didn’t work for me.

Anyway, I’ve now sadly got this choice concept in my head and I am out in the world shopping later in the week and I come across two types of toilet roll piled high: buy 9 rolls and get another 9 free. I approach the toilet roll buying in the same way I do the toothpaste (have you noticed how half a supermarket aisle can be given over to stocking each of these products – anything that saves me disappearing down the aisle can only be good).

The thing is, in this enticing BOGOF (another crap pun alert), type one is white, and type two is that rather murky colour which might be best described as something akin to mouldy apricot as it is neither yellow nor orange, nor indeed cream.

And stocks of the white one are running low because that’s the one that people want to buy. Why? Do they feel better about white paper? Or do they know that more dyes go into coloured toilet paper and it is therefore less environmentally friendly (is that true?)? Or do most people have white bathrooms and it’s a style decision they base their selection on? Or maybe it’s just because that murky, mouldy apricot colour is just too disgusting to have in the house if you don’t have to.

That must be it!

But I suppose, to link it back to the research, we feel that white toilet paper is the best – even though, rationally speaking, the job it does cannot be affected by the shade it comes in…

In any case, toilet-paper manufacturers of the world, save us the bother of potentially being in a cognitive overload situation when choosing bog roll – scrap the filthy pastel shades, the impregnated with aloe vera varieties, the quilting and the twee embossed varieties and just make one sort of plain toilet roll: white.




So wrong, like you would not believe

There are some strange people who take it all too seriously indeed here

One for the Labrador Massive

Not sure if they come round here much anymore, but if they do, they know who they are…

The Cost of Spin for Parents, Business & Kings

I’ve blogged about this before: my angle was that whilst some promote a false reality through advertising or social media, many more people measure themselves against it. Whether the impact on individuals’ wellbeing causes a smattering of depression or a street riot is perhaps food for thought. When I came across this article Making a Case for More Candor… from PE Hub the part about parenting was especially pertinent.

After I had my children I understood why some people are so solicitous to pregnant women. In my innocence I had thought it was because they were overwhelmed by the miracle of life (I also thought this was rather odd). I have long since found out it was mere sympathy for the lifetime of trials ahead.

It has become evident, very few people tell the truth about parenthood; least of the many of the parents who admitted as such to mumsnet in a survey last year.
‘Oh no, little Lavinia only has 15 minutes of tv/computer/gaming a day…’

Anyway, the article is based on a conversation with a neuroscientist called Sam Harris whose essay ‘Lying’ is available on Kindle. Here’s an extract

Q: In Silicon Valley, many companies depend on spin to get from one financing round to the next, or one customer win to another. Is that so terrible?

A: There are so many costs to a culture of spin. It’s kind of a situation of mutually assured destruction, where you have this arms race of good news, and the price you pay for being candid about your missteps or problems on the horizon is that everyone will turn to your competitor — who will be busy lying about what’s happening on their side.

So the price is high. Yet the fact that we know everyone is spinning builds cynicism to the point where people are pricing in the possibility of people’s deception.

Q: What’s the case for people to change their behavior?

A: There’s a real power to simply being honest in a context where many people are so often dancing around the truth. There’s an integrity that comes with that, even if the reward for having integrity isn’t always immediate.

Steve Jobs came out and told people how sick he was [and Apple shares never nosedived]. Meanwhile, people can lose a tremendous amount of money when CEOs are deceptive where they can be.

Another aspect to spin to keep in mind: When people don’t have good information about reality, they think their difficulties are theirs alone. Take the culture of spin around parenthood and motherhood. We had our first child 2.5 years ago, and while obviously, people complain about being parents, most people tend to conceal a lot of the details about just how hard the experience is, beginning with the delivery. So you can think: Why is this happening to me? You’re isolated in your stress when people aren’t giving you good information

It’s nothing new though. People have been spinning the yarn for perhaps as long as people have been around. Take this example in art (self-promotion for Charles I) by Van Dyck.

e.g. From this subtle study of a horse

To this: The Divine Right of Kings

Traditional ways

If you drive east out of Southend-on-Sea you’ll reach the coast within ten minutes; walk south and you’ll be in the Thames estuary. Head north and you are in an out-on-a-limb strip of flatlands bounded on three sides by water: the River Crouch, the River Roach and Paglesham Creek. It is here on a Sunday you can see plenty of cyclists, motor bikes and trotting horses with traps whizzing up and down the lanes. It’s quite a sight.

There’s a pub where the road runs out at Paglesham Eastend. It has a small car park of the regular sort next to the pub and then another over the road behind a tall hedge – like this.

Plough & Sail car park

Gypsy gold does not chink and glitter.
It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark.

~ Attributed to travellers from the Claddagh area of Galway


Copyright Tim Flach 'Dogs Gods'

I had a rosebud moment yesterday. I survived it; that’s all I’m saying.

Bloody Tuesdays.

Nice dog.