Saturday, December 13, 2008

Floating designs for climate refugees

Stumbled upon a site for a green architect, trying to design buildings that clean the atmosphere rather than polluting it, and saw this fascinating design for a floating city for climate refugees. If the predicted global rise in sea levels takes place, some places (Maldives for example) will disappear. If they still "own" the territory, then this may be a workable solution, who knows?

I heard Rachel Brett from the Quaker United Nations Office talk about the new discussions which are taking place about climate refugees and how this will differ from refugees displaced by war or famine. It hadn't ocurred to me that there might be a difference until she pointed out that the choices for someone whose homeland has literally disappeared (or become completely inhospitable to human life) would be somewhat different from those driven out of their homes for some other reason.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Remembering and Forgetting... a 21st century poem

A poppy for a broken man
A butterfly for a child-shaped hole
A pink ribbon where my friend once was
and rosemary for remembrance.

A kiss for any broken skin
A hug for every child in need
A phone call for a friend who lives
and love can heal the world.
November 14, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama the Builder

Well, every blogger in the Universe will be blogging today about the American Presidential elections. I am afraid that I didn't stay the course, fell asleep about 2am, leaving my children following the wall-to-wall election coverage on tv. "Do the Americans watch coverage of our elections?" asked my daughter. Er, no.

I was still wondering whether Americans would be able to elect a black president as I fell asleep... I wondered whether the huge turnout for the elections indicated a late surge for Obama or a mobilization of those trying to prevent him from reaching the White House... maybe it was both.

To be honest I find it amazing that Americans will wait in queues for three or four hours in order to vote. If we had to do that here, I think there would be riots... I have never waited at all. It's strange to me that Americans can be so demanding and complaining in some respects and yet so accepting in others.

In the UK schools and community centres are turned into voting stations, and the system works to ensure that if you want to vote, you can, with a minimum of queuing or difficulty. I don't really understand why it is otherwise in the US. The other thing I found very surprising was a picture of people reading a four-page guide to voting which seemed amazingly complex. I know they don't just vote for president in the elections, but a four page guide seems... well, like it might be an obstacle to voting. And likely to mitigate against people with an aversion to paperwork successfully voting.

A turnout approaching 80 per cent in some area and a landslide victory seems to indicate that the American people were determined to have a change no matter what difficulties lay in their way... and so when I woke this morning it was to Obama making a speech of acceptance. My brother has been on duty all night at television centre in the UK. He hates night shifts, has to rely on a large dose of caffeine to help him through. He wonders if the Americans realise they have elected not Joe the plumber, but Bob the Builder for president. Can we do it? Yes, we can!

My son was the only one in the household who managed to stay the course and watch the coverage throughout. He is completely uninterested in UK politics, and yet has been very interested in the US election. That seems to have been universal here... I think people have come to see how much US actions have hurt the UK in the past eight years, and to realise that although most Americans have little interest in UK politics (or even knowing where the UK is, in many cases) they need to take notice of what the Americans do, because it will bite us in the pocket among other places if we don't.

I don't know what the future will hold. I hope that Obama will close down Guantanamo Bay, and will reverse the policies which have led to the homeland security oppression in the US. I hope that he succeeds in bringing peace and prosperity to the US, not simply because of the knock-on effects to the UK if the US experiences a prolonged recession, but because I think the ideals of America worth a damn... freedom and democracy and human rights... have been eroded over the past eight years and it is in the interests of everyone on the planet for that to be reversed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Only connect

Although of course I knew from a very young age that a baby has two parents, it wasn't until I was nearly middle aged that I understood the implications of what I knew. Family history taught me that my number of direct ancestors doubled as I went back each generation: two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great grandparents. It doesn't take a genius to work out the maths.

The working forward of that thought didn't come until later. I have twice as many ancestors as my mother...she had twice as many as my grandmother...who had twice as many as her mother. My children have twice as many as me. Their children will have twice as many as them.

The trouble is, that much like the old story of the mathematician's payment, where a ruler was asked to pay one grain of rice, or wheat (depending upon who tells the story) on the first square of a chessboard, and two grains on the second, doubling up with each square, you soon get into the realms where you feel as though someone is slowly tryng to turn your brain inside out.

Three greats: 32; four:64; five:128; six:256; and so on: 512; 1024; 2048; 4096; 8192; 16, 384; 32, 768; 65,536; 131,072. 17 generations back and you have one hundred thousand ancestors, and the numbers seem unimaginably huge. But actually, allowing for 30 years a generation on average, seventeen generations only takes you back to about 1500... and the beginning of a problem. The numbers appear to accelerate enormously quickly over the next few generations: 18 is 262, 144. 19 generations back comes to 524,288; and 20 comes to over a million... 1,048,576. So your total ancestry going back to around 1380, would be around a million people. Hold...on...though.

In 1377 the adult population (over 15 years of age) were subject to a poll tax, and so we have good records about the number of people in England at that time. There were 1,355,201. So go back another generation... to around 1350... you will have 2,097,152 ancestors in theory. Which is many more than the adult population of England at the time.

Even allowing for the ravages of the Black Death, which removed about a third of the population of London in the course of 1348-50, there are still too many ancestors for the number of adults.

Now it is already obvious from my own family that the same people turn up in the family tree over and over again. If cousins marry, then the lines of family ancestry will join together with the same couple appearing as grandparents on both sides of the family. This has to account for the conundrum that although you have in theory twice as many ancestors each time you go back a generation, the maths doesn't add up once you are in the 14th century.

My feeling is that anyone with an English ancestry is probably related in some unknown way to any other person with an English ancestry. We are all cousins, and family. Probably that's true of all people, everywhere, because once you go back a few more generations, you need the adult population of the world to account for all the ancestors.

I enjoy family history because it moves me in a way that political history never could. Initially I thought it was the thrill of finding out about my own ancestors... but it isn't, because I feel every bit as thrilled about researching other people's families. I think it is simply that history on a personal level; the history of people, their story, is touching because you can always project yourself into the person's place, and understand their lives in a much more empathetic way than the wars and machinations of government.

Family history research has convinced me that we are all connected, and that time is much shorter than we think. Where once I would have thought of 14th century England as a place far removed from my daily life, and the people as being a long way from the people of today, I see that there are no real differences: the people living then were not much different from the people living today. 500 years, in the context of the history of the world, is hardly an intake of breath, it is no time at all.

It always amuses me when I hear someone from a documented ancient lineage say: of course my family goes back to the time of the conqueror.... Yes, so does my family - and your family - and the next person's family. By dint of us being in existence, we all have ancestors who were alive back then, and the chances are, they were related. In fact the population of England must have been fairly static for a few centuries, because there are estimated to have been about 1,250,000 to 2,000,000 people around the time of the Domesday survey.

So next time you see a picture in a gallery of an illustrious 15th century merchant, or a peasant in the fields, don't look upon them as a stranger. The likelihood is, if you have English ancestry, that they are your grandfather or grandmother - or aunt or uncle, cousin or sister. We are all related, and all connected, and we should celebrate that.

Kiva: microfinancing entrepreneurs

I had one of those web and virtual world connections-leading-to-a-connection things we all experience. Last night I went to the perfomance of the Wall in Second Life, and then to the after-show party. While there, I saw an avatar dressed in some great clothes, and followed the creator to her shop, To The Nines.

Looking for information about the creator, I found the LeeZu Baxter blog, on which she mentions that LZB makes a donation to Kiva. As I hadn't heard of Kiva, I followed the link and found a wonderful thing.

Kiva is a website which matches people who have money to lend with entrepreneurs who need microloans to enable them to grow their business. There are fantastic stories on the website which make the loans personal, show what a wonderful thing it is. Visit it!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ecological living

My son introduced me to stumble upon, and as I am currently suffering from back pain, I have spent a little time this morning stumbling over a variety of wonderful things. Go, sign up!

Among them is the story of this house in west Wales, built for £3000 in a farmer's field, with natural materials. I am sure that the article written by the mother of the family glosses over some of the difficult times which they must have experienced in the building of the project, but the result is just gorgeous, and I WANT it.

I have always loved buildings which have an organic shape... I like the buildings designed by Hundertwasser, by Rudolph Steiner and Gaudi. I think people respond to organic buildings and love them... which means the market isn't effective in producing what people want to buy, as new buildings are generally angular and ugly, not curved and beautiful.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The RAF captain, but not as we know it

I've always liked Alexander Armstrong, but I particularly like his Armstrong and Miller sketch show, and of that I REALLY like the RAF sketches.

For those who haven't seen them, these feature two archetypal RAF pilots, with authentic backgrounds, who happen to talk the street-talk of contemporary teenagers. The juxtaposition of the black and white visuals and the audio has a very comic effect. This is an official trailer from the BBC, but there are a lot of these sketches on youtube.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

St Nicholas, Lower Oddington, Gloucestershire

Looking towards the side gate across the churchyard at St Nicholas

Hannah Lardner's gravestone

Leah Lardner's gravestone.

Gravestones in the churchyard

More gravestones

...and still more gravestones

Gravestone for Amy Rose, 1890

I spent a very pleasant weekend with my aunt and uncle in Gloucestershire, to celebrate my recent birthday. In the course of my stay, we visited the Church of St Nicholas in Lower Oddington. It seemed to be semi-abandoned, which is a shame, as it has some very unusual wall paintings, which may be being affected by the damp.

Always mindful of the fact that I may be walking where other family historians would love to walk, I took a few pictures around the church and the churchyard, which may be of interest. Feel free to use these for your family history... please let me know if you find them useful!

Gravestone for Ann Harbert.

In the churchyard there are some very clear gravestones. I honestly wish I had had time to record all of them, but even as it was, my family were waiting for me in the car.

More Lardner gravestones in the churchyard.

Campin gravestone, St Nicholas churchyard.

Memorial for the Gardner children. As far as I can work out, this says the following:
John Gardner ? ?
Anne dyed September ye 4 etaet 2 y
John dyed Septemberye 14 etaet 7 y 1697
Edward? dyed September ye 16 Etaet 19 y
Margery Gardner Dyed April ye 3 etaet ?9? y 1696
grandmother to these children

Just before this place wee lie in
hope of a joyful resurrection

John Gardener, father
of these children
Dyed November the s? 1704
etaet 60 years

Detail of the Gardner memorial

Entrance to the porch

Next to the door is a socket for a stick, and gradated lines, a wall sundial for telling the time, when the sun was bright enough

Inside the church is the doom painting, a coat of arms, and a damp smell. I had no idea the church and the paintings were so significant, until I came back and read this page.

My aunt Hilary, uncle Geoff and mother Diana, looking at the wall paintings inside the church

Coat of arms for William IV, one of only two known instances, apparently, and painted over earlier work.

Hilary and Diana look at the memorial for Charlotte Rice, who died after having 10 children.

Memorial for Charlotte Rice
Light streaming through a side window

We didn't know what these strange groves and hollows were for, in the porch of the church. They look like they may be for liquid, but what, and why? Randi tells me in a comment that these are marks where people have sharpened swords and arrows. I had forgotten that archery practice was compulsory for every man over seven for many years. I had also forgotten that people very often used the porch of the church more than any other part, for weddings, will readings, business and trading.

Side window and side door from the other side of the wall

Townsend gravestone
Yew in the churchyard, one of many

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Infinite variety

I love the new Dr Marten's t-shirt contest. I think this is a well-designed way of using the internet to advertise without making people want to hurl their computer out the window. i just think it is amazing that you give people the same tools and the same starting point and they make such different things.

I'm addicted to designing them, I love the tools they have provided. I've done a few... feel free to go and vote for them. OK, what I mean is go there and vote for the ones you like.

Oh dear... people are voting negatively against designs. I can't help feeling that there's some big gaming going on. The 4th rated boot now has 32 positives and 26 negatives. I know one man's meat is another man's poison, but one of my designs has attracted two positives and two negatives... my entries in the last contest didn't attract any negatives at all over the whole course of the contest. I'd have to feel pretty strongly to vote anything but positively for any design. I've voted positively for the ones I like, without worrying about whether they are above or below me... I'd never do anything else.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dead but not gone....

OK, so I can't quite remember what I was looking for, when I found a post which is called "top 10 incorruptible corpses". I was transfixed by it. And the comments after it.

The news that the Catholic Church has a policy of digging up the corpses of those who have been recommended for sainthood, 50 years after their deaths, was a bit macabre. Imagine having that as a job! "Oh yes, I was chief exhumator for the Catholic Church for many years...."

Quite apart from the fact that one or two of the incorruptibles seem to be fairly corrupt - well blackened, at the very least - it appears that some may have been vaccuum-packed. And covered in wax. Or enhanced in some way. Still, the oddity is just what we look for here. St Silvan (above) is in pretty good shape for 1600 years, although it is interesting that he is canonized despite the fact that he was killed for his faith is the only thing anyone knows about him. Oh and that his body does seem remarkably preserved. I'm wondering what other weird top 10s I may find if I put my mind to it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Several years ago, I discovered Samorost. My daughter adored it, and played it a lot.

Now it seems that the Amanita team which brough us Samorost and Samorost2 is working on a full length adventure game, Machinarium. You can see screenshots and a couple of previews here.

Monday, September 8, 2008


If you don't like spiders... then beware this link. Actually, you probably saw the illustration, screamed and shut the browser. Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.

Cool desktop pet type thing which you can feed and play with. Strangely enchanting as long as you aren't phobic.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


My brother pointed me towards a new band he's started listening to, called Tunng. You'll find them here and here and here... and their own website is here.

I've been unable to stop humming the song, and keep going back to play the youtube versions of Bullet. Hope you like it too.

Friday, August 1, 2008

National Portrait Gallery Copyright... the gift that keeps on taking...

I am currently engaged on collecting together materials for my Quaker meeting's 350th anniversary. As you can imagine, Quaker paintings for the 17th and 18th century are a bit thin on the ground, so I was delighted when I found a picture which is apparently in the National Portrait Gallery, of Benjamin West the celebrated painter, and his father, John West, who was an Uxbridge Quaker at the beginning of the 18th century.

I contacted the National Portrait Gallery to find out about the cost of having a print of the painting and also to ask about permission to reproduce in the leaflet that we will be producing. This is likely to have a short print run, and be handed out to a few people during our open days in September and October.

I really expected that they would tell me that as the artist died in 1814 and the painting was first published in 1779, there was no copyrght payable. Not so, however. Unlike the US where you are unable to claim copyright in a photograph which only includes a work which is out of copyright, the National Portrait Gallery would like to charge me the cost of a black and white print for the painting and then £25.10 including VAT for the coyright fee.

It is possible for me to go to the National Portrait Gallery and take pictures myself, but if I do, they claim copyright on my photographs too! As it outlines on their web page (my italics and emboldening):

Copyright and the National Portrait Gallery
As a National Gallery, we have a public duty, not only to display and conserve the works in our collection, but also to ensure that the works are correctly represented in reproductions and publications of these works. As a result of continuing research, from time to time, adjustments are made in the attributions of both artists and sitters for paintings. It is also extremely important that pictures are represented in their most recent state of restoration. There are, in many other cases, issues for the artists, sitters, donors or lenders of works in the
collection, to which, as an institution, we have to be sensitive. For these reasons, we need to control very tightly the circumstances and quality of reproductions from the collection.

In order to do this, we have a very active picture library and licencing department, which loans transparencies for the purpose of reproduction. We also exert strict controls on all photography in the Gallery, which is allowed only on the understanding that copyright rests with the us and that any further reproduction deriving from the resulting photographic materials is subject to our written permission.

The National Portrait Gallery is a strong supporter of free entry - we do not think visitors should have to pay in order to see the collection. Those who may never be able to visit us can still enjoy and learn about the collection through the images published in books, magazines, on the television and the Internet. The Picture Library raises money by licensing such reproduction, which supports the 'free entry' policy and the Gallery's main functions in looking after its paintings, drawings, etchings and sculptures, and in teaching people about the works.

I have written to protest about this abuse of their position. It looks as though I may be able to obtain the images without copyright fee from American museums, and if I can, I shall.

I will await the National Portrait Gallery's response with interest.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bosnian Pyramids

Looking at the age of this stuff, I am astonished that I haven't seen it before.

As usual, I came by the story in a roundabout way. I was searching for free stone textures or pictures of stone to make into textures. I found a picture of a huge round ball, which was apparently found in Bosnia after an earthquake. I was struck by how similar they were to the south American balls that no one has ever explained.

Then I saw an article about the finding of a pyramid in Bosnia... and saw the pictures of the mountain looking very even and man made. There's even an Indiana Jones-like archaeologist in charge of the excavatation.

Anyway... dig around and see what you think....ah...I should have checked it out with wikipedia... they disbelieve the pyramids... have seen nothing about the balls,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

London Bodies

Happened across the exhibition in the Wellcome Institute on Euston Road in London about London bodies. Skeletons from two thousand years of the city's history lie laid out in glass cases, with tantalising notes beside them.

An elderly man with evidence of rickets in childhood and another bone bending disease in adulthood. A baby with smallpox. A prostitute with syphilis. A young woman with no obvious disease.

The light is low, the skeletons all look roughly the same at first glance, and only the careful and brief notes with them distinguish one from another. Then, a shock. William Wood, exhumed from his grave from the 19th century. How would I feel if one of my 19th century ancestors had been laid out in this way for all to see?

The Institute is of course a temple to science, and scientific methods. It looks at the human and sees only the flesh and the bones... the things which can be measured, touched, documented and studied. But the remains of human bodies, these skeletons... once they were people, and they loved and lost and lived and died... maybe it should make no difference whether they are a nameless man from a Cluniac monastery from six centuries ago or a beadle from the 19th century, but somehow... it seems disrespectful, wrong, to bring someone out of the grave after so short a time in it. How would I feel, similarly displayed, in 2170?

We looked at them with interest, tried to compare the teeth of the Romans who ground them down, and those of the 18th century Londoners... rotten. I wondered what sort of lives these people represented... mostly hard I guessed, with broken bones badly mended, and signs of vitamin deficiencies.

Mostly I felt uncomfortable in a world which ignores our deeply spiritual nature, which cannot be neatly filed away in a box, in favour of the material witness to our existence, numbered and stored away for future reference.

However, it's very interesting - more detail here.

Keith Barry TED Talk magic

Indebted to BoingBoing once again for a link to an interesting Ted talk... Keith Barry seems to be from the same school of magicianship as Derren Brown.

I just had to add it to my mysterious miscellany.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Communicating dishonesty

Clicked on a banner on BoingBoing this morning that purported to be about a marathon chat using the IM system, which apparently raises money for good causes while you chat on Windows Messenger or Windows Live.

There was a character called's what he apparently says about himself:

who am I & why am I doing this

My name is Parker, and I’m just a guy with a computer and good intentions. A couple of months ago, I found out about the i’m Initiative.

It’s a Microsoft program that gives to a social cause every time you use Windows Live Messenger or Windows Live Hotmail. I saw an ad that said, “The more you talk, the more we give.” So I thought, if I get a bunch of people talking for 30 days, how much will they give?

I hope you join me. Thanks for checking out the Talkathon!

So I started looking around the page, and it didn't take much intelligence or diligence to find this message at the bottom of the page:

If you’re reading this, your BS detector is chirping like a smoke detector with a dicey 9-volt. As you’ve probably guessed, this blog is fictional, but the causes, and the i’m Initiative most certainly are not. The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness of the i’m Initiative and the worthy causes it helps. If we rubbed you the wrong way in the process that wasn’t our intention, so “sorry, our bad.” The alternate was something called an “e-mail blast.” But, believe us that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds. A herd of well-compensated legal professionals in Redmond, Washington, says we also need you tell you something:

The Parker Whittle character depicted herein is fictitious and his activities are described for illustrative purposes only.

Rubbed me the wrong way in the process?? RUBBED ME THE WRONG WAY IN THE PROCESS??

YES you rubbed me the wrong way in the process. The marathon is supposed to be about communication - people talking to each other. How, pray, am I supposed to communicate with a fictional character? This initiative illustrates all that is wrong about old marketing and why it is going to be really bad for companies if they don't think more carefully about how they communicate with their customers. Pages of negative comments, interspersed with a few people who seem to have traded in their bullshit detector for an ass-licking course (and are they real, or undercover Microsoft employees desperate to put in some positive comments?).

Everything in the who am I and why am I doing this is a lie, fabrication, artificial. Why couldn't they have wheeled out the truth? Presented the marketing man or PR company employee who came up with the idea and pitched it to Microsoft? Or found someone who could sign up to the idea with their own name and personality intact? Of course, it is true that I am terribly suspicious of any person purporting to promote anything nowadays... but this just seems so tacky and so artificial it is really not just annoying but insulting.

Whoever came up with this, didn't think about the impact it would have on the sort of people who signed up to the IM campaign in the first place. People who hope they are contributing to something by signing up. Genuine and caring people... the last people any company should wish to annoy. It's only day 2 and they have already managed to diminish any respect I had for the company... which is at an all time low anyway, as I am struggling with problems caused by Windows Vista fighting with Second Life (vista is winning).

I'm wondering why the site blog has gone blank and what will appear there now.

Update: Even stranger... I have found a real person, maybe, maybe not, called Parker Whittle on myspace. It's beginning to mess with my head all this... is he and his myspace page real or not? If he IS real and not a figment of Microsoft's imagination, is he just being paid to do the Talkathon thing or will he see them in court? I think we should be told....

It seems likely they pulled the blog posts to be able to pull the comments which were pretty negative. I wonder if they will return when they fix up the posts? Any fule know that you don't pull posted posts unless desperate - or sober after an alcohol-fuelled ranting.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Blogs and writers

Two new blogs came to my attention in the past week. When I say new, I mean new to me, both seem to have been going for some time. It's odd, I was listening the other day to someone on the radio talking about how the photographs we take nowadays are mostly hidden away on desktops and in cameras, rather than being printed and shared with other people. It occured to me a long time ago that there is more and more stuff being written, but less and less of it is worth keeping.

Writing a blog is a special thing, so different from writing a journal which is for yourself and posterity only, there for your surviving family to read and possible burn. A blog is a living document, one in which it is possible to have a dynamic conversation with the readers, and within which you learn who those readers are, what they like and dislike about your blog and your writing.

The trouble is, the dynamic nature of the blog changes you. It has to. I didn't realise this when I first started my first blog, 10 years ago. I was a pioneer, blogging with a handful of other UK writers, when the BBC site was mostly unobtainable because it was more or less the only commercial site in the country, and on a dial up connection, more often timed out than not.

I was ignorant of the differences between journal writing and blogging, thought it was just an online journal. Ot was some time before I realised that a web log whould have details of your travels across the then much smaller web, with active links.

I wrote it initially like my diary, with names and places more or less unchanged. Soon I realised there was a dilemma between being honest and being able to say what I thought about people and places, and being identifiable. It meant that I wasn't just confiding incidents about my day, but the days of my friends and family. That I might hurt or enrage someone inadvertently...or advertently.

I tried to conceal my identity, but that too is fraught with dangers and deceit. If you are a middle manager living in a large town and enjoy the odd drink in the pub and watching your favourite football team at the weekends, I have no doubt you can probably blog away with a John Doe pseudonym and no one would find you out. But the combination of being a Quaker, being a home educator, working in Second Life and doing genealogy is a pretty unique one.

So... I could turn from a Quaker to a Buddhist, write my children out of the picture and mention no work and no genealogy... but then, would that still be me in there? It would cut out huge swathes of my life, and make the blog so much less interesting.

So... I could simply ensure that I don't say anything to embarrass or upset my nearest and dearest, and blog about safe things. Well yeah, that's more or less what I have done, apart from the occasional rant about commercial companies in SL. But it also cuts out that part of my life where I feel upset, angry, happy, frustrated or just plain bored, where I want to confide in my computer or my reader, and can't, in case I upset someone.

I'd have thought the same problems may beset the two blogs I have found this week. Bitchy Jones is a blog by a dominant woman, and is very definitely full of not-safe-for-work content. I don't agree with a lot of what she rants about, but the ranting is interesting and intelligent and fiery and alive. She's sometimes not very elegant, often badly spelled or typed, but it sparks and flashes, and is full of challenging and thought provoking ideas about dominance and submission and society.

The Grace Undressed blog was BoingBoinged which led the writer to withdraw most of the posts for a day while she checked through them with a fine toothpick to see if she had left identifying information which might lead the crazy posse to her doorstep. She is simply a fantastically brilliant writer, and I will be sad if she doesn't find a way out of stripping (her current job) into writing, which she does elegantly, poetically and with an honesty and authenticity that shines through the bleakest of posts. She is a truly gifted writer, don't let the stripper thing hoodwink you into thinking she has nothing to say... she speaks to me, and obviously to many people, because of the wave of people who followed the link from BoingBoing to her blog. I wish I had written the following, which she wrote about a 12-year-old who ran away from home and ended up in a strip club:

"I don't know what that girl had seen or felt or thought or done before she ran away. I know a lot more about what her life was like after. I can say for sure that the club was dark, and that it smelled of damp carpet and upholstery saturated with 15 years-worth of cigarette smoke and sour bodily excretions, and blizted over with a hundred cheap body sprays scented like would-be flowers and would-be musk. I know that the customers sat against the wall heavy-lidded, impassive, impenetrable. I know the other girls walked past her in a sweep of sheer fabric and high-heels and straight-ahead stares."

Then again, her experiences aren't my experiences. I can't write her life any more than she can write mine. But you can see, her writing is exquisite.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Picture of water affected by emotions

It's been a while since I visited the HADO site, the wonderful world of Water. Dr Emoto discovered that the same samples of water behaved very differently when they had different words written on them. Sample of water from different places showed different results too.

There is a video about the preparation of samples of water, pictures of frozen water crystals, but most interestingly, a page of links to articles which show how "love" anbd "demon" written on a bottle of water changes its crystalline form.

I don't know what's going on, or what the research shows, but I find the results fascinating and beautiful.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Amazing interactive disaster map

In looking for pictures of the lightning storm around the Chaiten volcano in Chile, I discovered this amazing interactive disaster map.

The map does not distinguish between a small accident involving 17 people and a collapsed fairground ride, and a disaster like the China earthquake involving thousands, and shows the most recent events as radiating circles in red or yellow.

If you click onto any of the icons on the map, you will get a page which offers a description of the event, updates, photographs and location details.

I think this is most useful when you want to get updates on events which have slipped from the mainstream media, like the Chaiten Volcano, although that volcano icon, which should be in southern Chile, occasionally appears in the middle of the Indian ocean, for reasons I don't understand.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Doc Martens design competition

Found a fun advert for the Doc Martens design competition and made a simple but attractive design I hope.

Go vote for me. Or make your own design and let me know so I can see and vote for it!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oil pulling for keratosis pilaris diary

I must preface my remarks with the information that I am not medically qualified, and i am not advising anyone to do anything. I am all in favour of people in general taking control and responsibility for their own health.

About 50% of the adult population suffers from keratosis pilaris to some extent. Also know as chickenskin, it looks like permanent goosebumps, sometimes red, sometimes not. There is a whole collection of relation conditions, which all have their own impressive latin name.

Some people will hardly think of this as a condition, and others are severely depressed by it. Of course, the severity and the impact that it makes upon your life are affected by how important your appearance is, where your tolerance for imperfections lies, etc. I have it, as do two of my children, one of whom has it pretty badly.

Anyoldhoo, having found the support forum and message board for KP, I discovered a discussion about oil pulling, which is apparently as well-known technique in various parts of the world. Put simply, it consists of using pure oil, like sunflower, sesame (untoasted) or coconut, and first thing in the morning, taking about a tablespoon, swilling it around the mouth for 20 minutes and then spitting it out.

People on the forum have reported mixed results from the method. Some claim to have seen a reduction in their KP, others report side effects such as a reduction in neck pain, or whitening of the teeth.

Few people seem able to explain how it can help. One postulates that it may remove toxins from the system somehow, because some toxins are fat soluble while others are water soluble... others that it kills bacteria. However, I am always in favour of things that don't harm but may help health, and so I decided to give it a try for myself, and record the results here.

I have often wondered what benefit the Roman got from covering themselves in oil and having a slave scrape it off again. Maybe this is an internal version of that....

Day 1
I do not have sunflower, untoasted sesame oil or coconut oil, and I wondered why people didn't use olive oil. Having tried it this morning I think I know the answer. Extra Virgin cold pressed olive oil has a strong, bitter, flavour, which may be tasty in salad dressings, but is quite hard to deal with when the undiluted oil is swishing around the mouth.

It was quite thick, too, even after I had swished it around for 20 minutes. It seemed to be doing something, because my tongue and gums were tingling quite strongly, although I was pulling it through my teeth quite slowly and gently. Tomorrow I will find a less flavoured oil.

At the end, I spat out the oil, and swilled my mouth out with salt water, which I also spat out. I then brushed my teeth. They do look whiter to me. There was something about the activity which woke me up and made me feel more alert... but maybe that was just the knowledge that I needed to observe the effects.

Day Two
I have sunflower oil, but it isn't cold pressed or organic. It's very easy to use for the oil pulling, hardly any flavour, not thick, but my mouth didn't tingle as it did yesterday with the olive oil. I managed 20 minutes, rinsed and brushed my teeth.

My tongue is less coated, my gums look pinker and my teeth whiter - though that could be expected I suppose, from the unaccustomed workout they are getting first thing. This is making me think about what I put into my mouth during the day... and making me more alert too.

Day Three
Decided to go back to olive oil. Although it tastes much more strongly than the bog standard sunflower, it also seemed to be more... hmmm hard to describe... seemed to have more active ingredient I suppose. Managed only 16 minutes before I started to gag and had to spit it out.

Gums and teeth continue to improve. It certainly wakes you up in the morning! Concentrating on a mouthful of oil is an unusual method for waking I I grant you....

My tongue is definitely a lot less coated, and my skin seems smoother. I do think that simply the attention that you pay to yourself in the course of doing this may be effective... also that the pinkness of the gums may be responsible for the apparent increased whiteness of the teeth.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

New soup track

Soup posted a new track to his Myspace profile. I like it a lot, although it is a bit inconvenient to have to go to MySpace everytime I want to hear it....

Friday, March 7, 2008

Money programme on email

Today's Money Programme (on BBC2 at 19.00 for UK viewers), is on the subject "Email is ruining my life". The BBC website carries an outline of the programme which includes these top tips from Loughborough University's Dr Tom Jackson.

He has spent the last nine years researching and developing better e-mail practice and has five tips he believes can help you take control of your inbox:

* Invest in a spam filter. You shouldn't open a spam e-mail, because as soon as you open the e-mail up, it notifies the organisation that has sent that, saying this is a valid e-mail address. They know how long you've looked at it, when you looked at it and did you go back to it.
* Target your e-mail. One of most annoying things about e-mail is the sheer number of messages we receive that aren't addressed primarily to us. Does everyone in the cc box really need to be copied in on your words of wisdom? Basically, a cc is there for information purposes only, and you should only use it for that purpose.
* Write more carefully. The reason to write carefully is crystal clear. It just vastly increases the chance that whatever it is you want to get done will get done. If you don't write carefully, there's room for misunderstanding.
* Reduce interruptions. I think it does start to stress people out. Simply by changing the way they have their e-mail application set up, they can start to reduce some of that stress.
* Get training. E-mail seems like common sense. Anyone can write an e-mail. But the issues we're having are that many people are struggling with e-mail communication - and training can really help with that.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New material gets floppy when wet

So? I hear you say. I can think of a few which get floppy when wet... cardboard, paper etc. This is a new material based on a sea cucumber, which the New Scientist reports has a unique ability to go floppy in water and rigid when dry. Developed by Stuart Rowan and Chris Weder of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, US, the material is a polymer made from two different compounds and shot through with microscopic cellulose fibres. "It's directly inspired by the sea cucumber," Rowan says. It is the precursor of materials which may be able to form soft clothing which will then morph into armour with the addition of a current or some other trigger.

As the developer of the new material says categorically that it was based on the abilities of the sea cucumber to go rigid in defence, which is known as biomimicry, it reminded me of the talk given at TED in which Janine Benyus talked about biomimicry: the ways in which we can learn from nature.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Brian Protheroe

I bought Brian Protheroe's album Pinball in the Notting Hill Record and Tape Exchange in the 1970s... and loved it. He's recently had a revival of interest and so tracks with accompanying video have been appearing on youtube.

There's the title track from that album Pinball, and others like Fly Now from the Pinball album too.
Although I didn't come across before youtube featured it, CitySong.

I know it's the kiss of death for an artist if I say I like them... but I like Brian Protheroe. His songs are great to sing along with, and to listen in the early hours of the morning.

Lasseg and Soup

I have written in other places about how I came across the Lasseg music edit "Amateur" on youtube, which lead me to other films by lasseg, such as the cello music by Giovanni Sollima and his other fantastic films.

I am grateful that I found Soup's reply to the Lasseg film Amateur, because it was through that I found his music, which I love.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Losing my (comment) virginity

One of my two readers left a comment yesterday. It seems the way to coax the lurkers into commenting is to mention them by name! Now I am left wondering if the reason my other reader is slacking in the comments department is because I haven't mentioned him.

I already knew the swiftest way to find out whether anyone reads what you have written is to misspell their name. Thus calling someone Angela Smith instead of Andrea Smith, or Robin Braggs instead of Robin Baggins will elicit comments, or complaints or letters from a solicitor much MUCH faster than claiming that the world is flat, or evolution an illusion.

Open the book of Life

The BBC reports the opening of the book of life, a vast encyclopedia which aims to record all the species on the planet.

It suggests that the creation of this resource may be as great as the invention of the microscope. Not sure how, exactly, as one was a tool for seeing things never before seen and the other is a record of them. That's not to underplay the vast job of work which is being undertaken. Oh wait. Having visited the first pages, I see... I see. It will be possible to submit pictures and information, seek out information about a species... if you are passionately fond of butterflies or cormorants, you will be able to submit information to the people responsible for curating those pages. Even the pages with no information except a title, already provide links to historical papers and books mentioning the species. Thus a quick search for Green Woodpecker brings up Cambridge University papers, books published in the 19th century, reviews from the British Museum. What a fantastic resource this is!

Those who watch the TED talks from the TED conferences will be aware that one of the inspirations for the EOL project was the TED talk by E.O. Wilson in outlining his TED wish. That was in March 2007. That the first volume is opening now, and that it is being curated all over the world, is a marvellous thing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Ops

Despite not being American and not really caring who becomes president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers' of America (SFWA) association, I go here to the blog of John Scalzi on the say-so of Cory Doctorow from BoingBoing. I have to admit that it is very unusual to read such an open and scathing run down of someone's opinion of another, and that even though I know nothing of the people involved, it was gripping.

What really caught my attention, notwithstanding the brilliance of the prose in the piece above, was one of the comments below in which Gianluca at comment 18 suggests that Mr Scalzi, should he give up the Science Fiction could make a living as a professional ranter. Like, that's a *job*?

I so want to be a professional ranter! I wonder what the qualifications are? And who gives out the jobs? If anyone knows, do tell. I have such good qualifications: I have ranted about Second Life, Education, Old People's Homes, charging for Genealogical information....

And another thing... with all the millions of people on the internet, (230 million on laptops alone, figure courtesy of another story on BoingBoing this morning about the laptop for every child campaign - note to campaign, as they keep reminding me, my children are still waiting...) isn't it odd how you bump into the same people over and over? I saw Pete Darby on the comments list for the John Scalzi blog. *waves*

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Machine Stops

I have posted in other places about the E.M. Forster story, The Machine Stops. I read it as a teenager in the 1970s and felt that it was as far-fetched in 1975 as it had been in 1909.

It's a funny thing... my children greeted Ray Kurzweil's reported predictions of blood cell sized computers with general derision. "Yeah, yeah, yeah... and in 1975 they believed we'd have personal robots by the year 2000, or be flying to work by jetpack!"

I had no trouble believing that we might have a personal R2D2 to do the hoovering or collect the dirty laundry. I had no difficulty accepting that we might have surveillance outposts on the dark side of the moon by 1999. But the idea that we might all be linked by a machine, and have friends around the world we hadn't met, that didn't ring true at all in 1975. It didn't seem likely.

To see how prescient E.M. Forster was, I recommend reading the story. I wonder how dependent we will become on our machines over the next 100 years. I wonder whether books will withstand the march of progress or gradually get filed under obsolete objects and be relegated to museums.

Currently I resist the march of progress coccooned in a library of thousands of volumes, and I love the touch, look and reading of books. I cherish the ones with history, I see them as friends and companions in many cases. But even I would hesitate, with the availability of reference material online, to buy a new encyclopedia or dictionary.

I think writers have a big part to play in considering the shape of the future... and maybe we should heed their warnings.

Bill Bailey

I can't believe I have got this far into my miscellany without mentioning Bill Bailey, a gifted comedian, actor, personality. He is revered in my house by everyone for different things: his status as one of the team leaders in Never Mind the Buzzcocks, a regular tv show which has a vaguely anarchic musical theme, his appearances in Black Books, and his stand up routines.

He has a wonderfully mad and buggy website, and so I am informed by one of my offspring that if you pause video and then replay it, all the audio you have listened to plays at the same time, but it is worth it. He is someone to be cherished, who appears to be able to be funny without being nasty, erudite without making anyone feel stupid, and entertaining.

The website seems to be a rather odd mish mash of steampunkery and googie, with a lot of games which will be interesting and entertaining the first time you visit but a PITA the second, third, fourth and fifth time. Anyway... enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Virtual reality is real reality"

The BBC website reports that Ray Kurzweil predicts that there will be a merging of virtual reality and reality in the next 25 years.

He says: "In virtual worls we do real romance, real learning, real business. Virtual reality is real reality."

He added "Games are the cutting edge of what is happening - we are going to spend more of our time in virtual reality environments. Fully emergent games is really where we want to go. We will do most of our learning through these massively parallel interactions. Play is how we principally learn and principally create," he said.

I have no idea whether he is right that we will have tiny computers and huge worlds, but I think that the promise of virtual worlds for enjoyable learning is immense.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bow Street Runner game

As often is the case, I am indebted to BoingBoing for a link to Channel 4's Bow Street Runner game, released to coincide with a new series.

In the tradition of Myst and Riven exploring games, this is a flash game in which you are a new recruit assigned to a murder case. Your esteem and rank depend upon the way in which you handle the case. Mousing over scenes leads you to clues and information.

I'm impressed by the quality of the game and the graphics and design generally. My only real criticism would be that the wigs and costumes let down the high production values from time to time. Old fashioned wigs would not have the gloss of man made fibres, and the finishing on some of the clothes looks poor. It's otherwise splendid, although the dire warnings of adult material don't seem justified by the one "sod off" that I encountered.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rupert Sheldrake

Rupert Sheldrake is an anomaly in the modern world... a scientist who is using scientific method on things which are mostly dismissed by scientists, like ESP.

It is always instructive to see how the rest of academia treats people who think outside current paradigms, and it seems that "with general derision" is the answer. That always astonishes me, when there are so many paradoxes and unexplained conflicts in the current understanding of physics and quantum theory.

However, I think there is a lot of interest in the Sheldrake research and site, not least the experiments with N'kisi, a grey parrot.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Look what can happen if you close your eyes and turn away

Serendipity brought me to a web page which led back to the BBC's report on RESPECTacles, the Holocaust memorial set up in the Town Hall in Liverpool for Holocaust Memorial Day.

It's hard to look at, because it is moving and eloquent. It seems appropriate, and thought-provoking, these piles of spectacles donated by people around Liverpool, some with messages attached, some from survivors, some from celebrities.

It's painful to look back and see what happened to the people sent away for concentration camps. It's easy to think that it was a problem of a different age, and that it wouldn't happen again.

Some years ago I watched a very moving documentary which was being filmed in the former Yugoslavia... it started with two neighbours, lifelong friends. One had hidden the other's son during the Second World War. You would have said that they would be friends forever, come what may. By the end of the film, they found themselves on different sides of the conflict. It made me realise that the strongest bonds can be broken when you are in fear for your life, even the bonds to your own integrity, to the beliefs and dreams that make you the person you are.

Only by becoming alert to any attempt to dehumanise people, to put other people into a different category of humanity, can we prevent this happening to other people in the future. It's one of the reasons why I think it is important to close down Guantanamo Bay, and to use one standrard of human rights for all.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fortune telling

I have a skill which I don't often tell people about. It tends to make them look at me as though I am an unexploded bomb that may go off at any moment. The world divides into skeptics who think that anyone who talks of clairvoyance is deluded, and those who will beg for a reading.

Not that I go in for that sort of thing: I have prophetic dreams. Sounds impressive, eh?

It isn't though. Usually what I see is a section of a tv programme I am going to see, a chapter of a book I will read, or headlines on newspapers. Nothing useful... on the occasions that I see something of more importance I usually don't realise until afterwards. And what use is a vision of the future that you only understand once you are in that future? I have no unfair advantage over those people who do not have such dreams.

Ah, but it's just like that cold reading the mediums do... I hear you say... you've seen the tv programme and forgotten it. Or read a review of the book, or the headline is one of those the papers drag out from time to time. Maybe, maybe that IS all it is, and I am deluded.

If I can see a pattern in my life, can see meaning in the small and insignificant things that happen, I don't think that can hurt anyone unless I start to believe I am God and try to entice people to gather on the white cliffs for a leap into eternity. And I don't plan on doing anything like that. Not this week, anyway.

The incident which impressed me the most was a dream I had, some years ago, which seemed completely entrancing and marvellous - so marvellous I told people I knew about it in minute detail. I don't usually inflict my dreams on others, there is nothing quite so boring than someone who recounts their dreams in detail. The wonder and the richness of the experience always melts like snow in sunshine, and you are left with a wet patch where the brilliance was.

A week later, I was away from home, and visited the magnificently potty Martello bookshop in Rye. It was owned then by Cynthia Reavell, who had a very eccentrically English way of running a bookshop. Instead of bothering with the critics from the national newspapers, Cynthia used to read the books herself and write her own terse review of the books, which was placed upon them on a card.

Cynthia, for those who do not follow such things, was a leading fan of the writer E.F. Benson, who was determined that, despite all evidence pointing to his having been gay, no one should actually label him as homosexual unless there was independent evidence from witnesses under oath. I will save Fred for another time. Cynthia used to write enraged letters to editors when E.F.B.'s books were reprinted, (having come briefly out of copyright when the law changed and they went straight back in again) and they'd put a foreward on which implied or said E.F.B. might have been gay. I should say that the circumstantial evidence for the whole family being gay is quite strong: and those that weren't gay were rather odd. His father told his mother that he planned to marry her when the mother was still a child and the father was an adult, and the mother, after her husband's death, took up with the daughter of another Archibishop and slept in her bed.

Anyway, I whiled away a little while browsing the bookshop, and came across a book called Destiny, by Martin Heald. It looked interesting, and promised a story of reincarnation. So, I bought it, and a little while later began to read it. And there, in black and white, was the substance of my dream, in detail.

I have often wondered what the message for me was in that experience. I know, I know, you will say it was coincidence, and that there is nothing of significance to be learned from it. But I don't know. I like looking for the meaning in the things which happen to me. And I like to think that E.F.B., or Fred as he was known to his friends, who wrote stories about reincarnation and was interested in the the dutiful son of an Archbishop of Canterbury should surely do... would have approved.

Psychic Crosswords

I find myself, via BoingBoing on the Daily Telegraph's online site, reading the answer to a conundrum that I have come across from time to time: the mystery of how many of the words associated with the D-Day landings came to be in the Daily Telegraph crossword.

For years it has seemed that the crossword compiler might have been a gifted psychic, equipped with an internal radar which picked up many of the code words chosen by the powers that be for the invasions of Normandy. I had read on many occasions about the mild-mannered headmaster, questioned closely to discover how he had come to insert those codewords into the grid. Was he a spy? Was he clairvoyant?

The truth, it seems, is much more pedestrian. The boys at the evacuated school used to fraternise with the English and American soldiers in an encampment nearby, and picked up all the secret codewords by eavesdropping or asking questions. They were often asked for help in filling in the answer grid for the headmaster, who was one of the Daily Telegraphs commpilers. Thus those with their heads full of the planned invasion were more likely to use the words they had been hearing.

It seems likely that all Hitler would have needed to gain a thorough advance knowledge of the invasions was a 14 year old boy in cadet uniform.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Derren Brown

I sorta love him and hate him, but there is no one like Derren Brown. He is shown above in a Wikipedia photograph from Olz06. His programmes have sometimes worried me, in case the oh-so-clever manipulation of other people's psyches may come back to bite him - and them - in the bottom at some stage in the future.

He's cool and creepy, arrogant and then strangely vulnerable when one reads his autobiography, but one has to assume he is able to look after himself.

I have noticed that he bears a remarkable resemblance to the hypnotist met by Dr Paul Brunton in his tour of Egypt, Dr Eduard Ades. Of course, one of Derren Brown's well-known allergies, is to anything considered supernatural or occult, and I presume reincarnation might also be included in that broad area. So he would hate hate HATE any suggestion that he might be a reincarnated Dr Ades, returning to the profession which brought him success in his last life....

The wonderful Eddie Izzard

I've been a member of the Eddie Izzard (seen above in a wikipedia creative commons photograph by Dave Morris) signed up fan club from the moment I saw his first performance... unfortunately using an old email account I can no longer access. But it is the thought that counts.

He's able to ramble in a most creative and wonderful way. If you haven't seen his recorded shows, beg, borrow or barter for them. This is his website.