Saturday, 31 May 2008

What's happening at CERN

It is not possible to download the wonderful video records of the talks from TED in California. You may see Brian Cox discussing the role of the Collider here.

Enjoy. And, if impressed, I recommend signing up for the email newsletter.

Thursday, 29 May 2008


Did I mention my enthusiasm for simulacrae?
Here are three of mine from a previous blog, for those who have'nt yet seen..


The real witch in the wood

and The work of Satan on Whitley Bay Beach

All guaranteed untouched and as they came from the camera.

Larus argentatus or Pica pica? Who killed Rana temporaria?

Here is a crime scene.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a noticeable decline in the numbers of Frogs in the pond. Carefully positioned rocks have lain empty of amphibian sunbathers whereas this time last year saw loads of them vying for space whilst their thousands of kids wiggled between the weeds below.

I have chosen not to present photographic evidence.

I found a body this afternoon. Opened up like a biology demonstration. Half in and half out of the water at the rear of the pond. There have been new visitors to the garden this year.

Larus argentus
has taken to landing more frequently.
Large birds, they have been previously unwilling to land and inspect the bird table etc but I have seen many more of them doing just that lately, near the pond.

Pica pica

are more plentiful this year. A pair started a nest in the Beech at the rear of the garden, overlooking the pond. It was abandoned however, last month. They have been frequent and plentiful visitors to the lawn and I suspect that the attraction has been a combination of young birds, eggs and frogs.

Or ...

The West Highland Observatory

For interested parties, keen to optimise sky watching pleasure whilst tipsy on whisky, the picture of the loch and wood in the last post is overlooking the Night Walk paths.
The route follows the short yellow road line between Theatre and Dervaig and the picture was taken from above the spot marked 'Burial Grounds'. The view is to the North West.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Credit where due...

In conversation with a good friend, I realised that I had only briefly touched on the foundation of these ramblings.

Without our frequent walks from home to catch the post, I would not have learned the art of free, creative thought as entertainment and instruction. My dad and I would tramp through damp bracken and heather, negotiating rocks and rabbit holes in near darkness whilst chatting on about the start and end of all things.

Throughout, our discourse was illuminated and inspired by the sharp, clear presence of the Milky Way, clearly visible in the Highland night, undimmed by street lights or the fog of industry. Our conversation (well, mine at least) was honed by fear. I worried that the torch would lose it's charge and that we would have to grope our way, through hordes of things from my imagination. Adrenaline lent an edge to my thinking and, I like to think, set some thoughts and ways of thinking there for later years, each associated with a feeling, gradually lost, it's potency forgotten.

My dad was patient and patently still keen to learn. It's tempting now to think that he gained from chatting too. We were aware of theories as they reached the press and radio. The landing on the Sea Of Tranquility was the main event and completely eclipsed all else for me. Until that happened, we talked and talked about the size and shape of nothing and everything equally.

We had some old binoculars and later, a telescope. Somehow though, the optical enhancement didn't match the utter state of stupid wonderment that viewing our position in the galaxy afforded with the naked eye. These sights are rare now. To see the shape of the spiral on it's edge and to almost hear the falling of the Northern Lights in winter. These are things that require a clear sky. Not something we can all enjoy these days.
I will always be thankful for that.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Klein, Klein.

Parallels. Where would we be without them?

In my attempts to find a path through the forest, I allow my thoughts to meander and, whilst doing so, surprises happen.

Euclidean geometry allows for the future boffin to 'allow' parallel lines to meet when Euclid and Einstein meet at last.

5th bloody Postulate.

If two lines are drawn which intersect a third in such a way that the sum of the inner angles on one side is less than two right angles, then the two lines inevitably must intersect each other on that side if extended far enough. This postulate is equivalent to what is known as the parallel postulate.

Ok. Enough. I am lost in this language.

The curvature of space was first introduced to me by my dad on walks over the hill between our house and Dervaig, on the Isle of Mull. We agreed that the infinite nature of our space lent itself to loose and creative interpretation but I favoured a Klein Bottle. It allowed for easy visualisation and understandability in three dimensions.

The bottle shape can be understood as a scientific/theoretical possibility simply by adding a third dimension to a Mobius Strip.

From here, it is a fairly simple leap to the understanding of other 'shapes' existent in the fabric of space and I was open to the concept of 'Wormholes' (as described by Robert Heinlein in 'Tunnel in the Sky' for example).

This great piece of 'Junior' science fiction (The main character is 17 years old) was written in the year I was born and has stayed with me since my teens. It describes a coming of age ritual as played out on a hostile planet, accessed via a rift in space/time and from which no return is possible. Peter Pan for the space age.

No going back from that wonderful, frightening place once demons had been conquered and savage wildlife tamed.

Exit childhood. No rapprochement. As practiced on her own children by Melanie Klein.

Round and round we go.. if we want to......

Monday, 26 May 2008

Earth, earth. earth.

Listening lately to the increasingly anxious boffins deliberating whether or not 'We are alone' I am struck by the macrocosmic possibilities for viewing this problem.

No one is particularly surprised when they come across a clump of growth in an otherwise arid landscape. The conditions necessary for the inception and maintenance of this small patch of vitality are rare but not impossibly so.
The coming together of shade, sun, water and seed is successful in single occurrences and may be separated by hundreds of miles of 'empty' desert.

Why should our happy coincidence be different? Our nurture is dependent upon so many more influences and is mitigated against in potentially catastrophic ways. It is tempting to understand our small patch as 'Miraculous' or 'Unlikely'.

Neither is true.

Simply because we are protected from destruction by The Earth's magnetic field and because our atmosphere sustains us. Simply because we are equipped to 'see' light and 'feel' heat. Because we are able to grasp the concepts of creation there is no logical presumption that we have been 'Placed' here.

Prevailing circumstances encouraged us.

We took advantage.

Friday, 16 May 2008

A simple entry today..

Just enjoying the quiet, lush green of Northumberland's flora

and the keen nibbling of Northumberland fauna.

With a view to extending my work for the British Trust For Ornithology Atlas into the borders!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Quantum at the crease..

Enthused by the thought that a Red Squirrel may or may not be in our physical universe at any given time and that this may, indeed be influenced by the presence of an observer, I turned to other test arenas.

And found this..

The Ball may or may not pass through the wicket. Lovely stuff!

And, just so we have a clear understanding of principles, my favourite explainers!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Bird Count at Minsteracres.

The kind of day that lifts the spirit, purely by virtue of the variety of fellow creatures we saw en route around Minsteracres.

In approximately 2 hours, amongst others, we encountered:

Greater Spotted Woodpecker
Being territorial, standing over a hole in dead wood.

Garden Warbler
Difficult to see initially but, now I know, I'll see them again!

Spotted Flycatcher


Too many to count really..


These two were high on a 'wanted' list and eventual 'Trophy' sightings for me!
The Nuthatch creeps down and..

The Treecreeper, up.

Betraying it's game self by rustling in the undergrowth and 'coughing' dramatically.

Sitting in a tree, bizarrely!

At a distance, but recognisable due to it's trademark, namesake, 'White Arse'.

More territorial action, this time in defiance of the visiting...

Just the one.

Sighted collecting mouthfuls of mud for nesting.

House Martin
Round the house!

Et al

Walking off, like a dog before the car.

Grey Squirrel
Overlooking a selection of traps designed to halt it's progress over the gradually southward travelling Red.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

In Memoriam. In Mindfulness.

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.


Struck by how little work I had managed to get done this winter, I tackled the garden today. We have Ground Elder. It is easy to remove cosmetically but has great arterial tap roots that lie underground sniggering at your attempts to kill it from above by giving it a haircut. The root traverses our lawn, rising to the east in our neighbour's annuals and making merry in ours. It exits west into our other neighbour's. They employ poisons.

I am wary, since eradicating the weeds on the patio and watching the lawn die back, as the rain washed the organophosphates onto it. It only recovered after a winter of sharp frosts..

Now, Buddha presides over the garden, reminding me that worms ought to be placed carefully on the soil when they wind up on the path, patches of uncultivated area are good for birds and patience is the best of virtues.

And, for all that, this is the thanks he gets.

The Bhumisparsa Mudra hand gesture (Touching the earth as Gautama did, to invoke the earth as witness to the truth of his words) is enhanced by the spring mud on his lap and Blackbirds have connected his shoulders to the sky.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Imagining the unimaginable?

There are many challenges in my exploration of ideas. My attempt to fit a small understanding of String theory into the earthbound topographic universe via lawn strimming is fraught with the potential for misinterpretation and retreat from the unimaginable.
I am reminded of Father Dougal in 'Father Ted', trying to do a jigsaw with a hammer. If at first you don't succeed, hit it until it fits.

In balance, the small understanding that occurs may be a 'good enough' payoff. Hardly Socratic, but close...

It pays to adopt a Lewis Carrol attitude I think. (I know, I know, the quote is 'Wonderland', the image is 'Looking Glass'. More of this later!)

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Alice in Wonderland.

The concept of multiple dimensions, accommodating particles and 'states of matter' in various ways has been elegantly played with by Greg Egan, Isaac Asimov, Stanislaw Lem and many others. Fiction is the common starting point for so many ideas and mental journeys. It is through these writings that I have formed a curiosity.

There are times when the sheer unlikelihood of a thing shocks you into a more receptive, less logic bound state. It is this shock that keeps me entertained by my scant acquaintance with Physics.
I read in the Guardian today of one such unlikely thing.

I mean, first off, just how unlikely is this thing?

It gets better. Apparently, the Platypus has new secrets recently unlocked.

We humans, not far along the evolutionary scale from these fabulous creatures, have two sex chromosomes X and Y. The Platypus has ten. Five of each kind. In humans, sex is determined by one pair of chromosomes: a woman has two X chromosomes, and a male has an X and a Y.
One of the platypus's sex chromosome pairs contains combinations similar to these, but another resembles the ZZ/ZW sex chromosome system found in birds. This raises an opportunity for an Impossible thing moment. How would you perceive a sex that was neither male nor female? Is it necessary to define gender if exploring this concept? Does sex decide reproductive function? Is it necessary or desirable to have complimentary sexes? Should we ask the gastropods?

Wednesday, 7 May 2008


Today we said goodbye to a very much loved and cherished friend and colleague Ann Campbell.

The chapel at the Crematorium on the West Road in Newcastle was standing room only for what was a very moving and personal celebration of her life.
She will be very much missed as we all continue to benefit from the legacy of her generosity of spirit and wonderful, enthusiastic, musical, bawdy, supportive, creative, Ann-ness.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Strings, trees, Poppy and Topology..

The warm weather brings an opportunity to mow the lawn for the first time this year. (Well, mow it successfully without having to pull great lumps of wet sod from the blades every five feet).
We have planted trees. In an attempt to offset the guilt that comes with driving, heating, eating, sleeping, breathing etc..
This means a puzzle every time I get the equipment out. The extension cord must accommodate the trees and vice versa. It's Topology. Like the Topology that applies to string theory via Donuts and Scissors and Kettles... I am no further forward, theory wise. The existence of particles in different states, in and across different dimensions is visible as a 3D model, just. but I am better able to understand the 'Stringness' of Super string theory as I entangle and disentangle without electrocuting myself.

"Topology becomes an important tool in superstring when it is treated as quantum mechanical object. This branch of mathematics is concerned with smooth, gradual, continuous change of geometric shape. For example, a square can be continuously deformed into a circle by pushing in the corners and rounding the sides. The essential rule is that no new hole can be created in the new form by tearing. Some topological equivalent objects are shown here.."

And stretching the cord around the trees and realising the loop lies outside, I can see the parallel here..

Sorry about the image detail. The original page may be seen here.

Poppy, our cat, hid in the low branches by the lawn watching me mow. When I turned the mower off, she ran into the house. But not until I'd seen her.
Hmmm. She goes to the vet tomorrow night for her final inoculation booster.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Oo Er....

Thirty miles is all very well.. but there's a downside. How to put this?

I shall be casting around for alternatives to Gel Filled saddles. These are, paradoxically worse for you as they do not conform to your individual anatomy over time. Like leather used to do.
Something like this may be just the thing, however, they are not cheap. An alternative innovation looks rubbish but promises to be the most comfortable ever..
I am keen to try this. I can see the sense and those that have used similar wouldn't go back. I am struck by the Bauhaus simplicity whilst being amused by the strangely familiar shape...?

Stolen pics

Thanks Niraj.. I have stolen Orion and identified two further denizens of the Deep Field.. A small, self satisfied tadpole and a laughing monkey.. Are they keeping something from us?

Speed and sneezing

Today's run

Set off from home today to try 20 miles. Got to Blyth in good time and decided to press on to Bedlington. Here's a site about a rather grand building just outside the village.

En route, I became aware of a tickle in the nose and a powerful aroma of plasticine. Rounding the corner of the road to Nedderton, (neat topiary sir!) I found myself bounded by two rape fields..

Pollen is interesting stuff. Not only irritating and , at times, debilitating of those suffering hay fever. I remembered that it had a part to play in the Einstein story. I thought for a bit and then remembered Brownian Motion was illustrated by the movement of pollen grains in apparent agitated ways when observed in water.

To my young mind, this was magical in a Clarkeian way (Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic). When I read about it as it seemed to link our world, with it's clumsy analogy seeking science to the quantum world where small things travelled huge distances but never impacted on us in any observable way.

Inspired, I took the next downhill corner at speed and broke the limit for the first time since I did my penance for infringement of the rules at a local roadworks (34 in a 30 area. I ask you!). My computer showed a 'mx spd' of 35.9 mph. The average for the trip (31.5 miles) was a mere 13.9 mph. This does illustrate the fabulous efficiency of the bicycle however.
Speeds of around 17 mph make very real distances achievable and make for a rival to the car. Whilst Claire can easily run to South Shields and make this a meaningful journey in emergencies, the bike makes such journeys possible in practicable time with plenty left over for life saving, retrieving lost sunglasses or a nice lunch out etc...

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Blogger isn't playing!

Maybe Google has forgotten the rules! It wouldn't let me create a link in the proper place for Niraj Ahuja's blog; Links to the Asimov and to a lovely site by Bose's grandson about his life and work...
I'll include the link permanently when Blogger lets me!


Bank holiday weekend and I'm full of Ibuprofen, Paracetamol and Codeine. A sneeze, a poor lift and turn and a bag of shopping invited a weak disk in my back to make it's presence felt once more.

So, having been liberated by the disinhibition of opiates, I dashed off a quick letter to the Observer, encouraging them to drop the Horoscope page and then sat and read the rest of the magazine, hoping to find something to inspire my entry today.

No luck. So, back on the bike then. (It's better to keep moving I find). No inspiration, just good old fashioned exercise induced thought!

There are many things about cycling that conspire to discourage you from ever doing it again. There are the foolish, life threatening actions of motorists for a start. I have known two people killed on their bikes on quiet roads and I think of them every time I climb aboard.
The inclination to consider you either,
a) a pedestrian with very big roller skates or,
b) a slow motorcyclist
causes major problems as the car driver attempts to compensate for your being on the same planet by accelerating past you. Often shouting abuse. Sometimes with a klaxon.

The wind. I have come to hate those tedious moments when you feel as if your forward progress is being unfairly hindered by a force ten gale only to be confounded as you look at the surrounding flora and see no sign of a zephyr. Fabulously quiet, speedy runs on the flat are only possible when there is a complimentary following wind.

The wrong gear. Just because you have access to 24 gear speeds doesn't mean you need more than 3. Struggling along in racing mode isn't big, nor is it clever. It won't make you any fitter either.

Dropping from 24 to 1 without thinking and losing your chain.

The state of British tarmac.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Thank you Niraj!

Dark Matter..

Thank you Niraj, for the text and links to the Audio for The Last Question..

A remarkable sequence of tales, linked by inquisitiveness and a written a mere 20 odd years after the conception of Dark Matter by Fritz Zwicky

Isaac Asimov casually drops the expansion of our universe into this wonderfully economical tale. By doing so, says more in a sentence or two than most of us can manage in an afternoon!

I have read and enjoyed this several times. It never fails! You may listen to chapter 1 here.

Thinking allowed

Ok, following on from my previous post. No cycling but some thoughts about the rules that govern existence instead. (And we won the pub quiz).

1. The game of football only exists as a theoretical possibility until the kick off.
2. It relies on there being rules that apply to the theory before it can 'be'.
3. The rules of football are 'Something must go somewhere within a given time. If so, repeat until given time expires'.

Football may have arisen from our wish to kick a stone or any light enough object and others' wish to copy or experience the same obvious satisfaction in the act of kicking. The 'players' may have thought they were making up the rules from that point but, all they were doing was understanding the rules that already pertained to the game and adapting them to fit their collective, negotiated aim. Rules governing competition and aggression in us all.

The 'Game' of football can be created, like Subbuteo. But it doesn't 'become' until the rules are applied.

So, by my reckoning, the 'rules' were there before the event. Just as we can say that black holes consume all matter and energy and associated 'information' held and shared by active particles. The mystery is a wonderful conundrum with a rulebook at it's centre and no players until someone finds a ball.

Cern and the LHC may throw a ball our way. We may not understand what it is.

Dreaming about rules and games..

Idly wondering, whilst waiting to feel comfortable enough to cycle. The existence of the universe,'became' in the fraction of a morsel of a sliver of a split pica second after the 'thing that happened'. That then progressed very quickly, to there 'being' elements.
There followed a near eternity of, oh, say, a second or so before the whole 'thing' became cool enough to allow the formation of molecules.

All this depend on there being 'rules' that apply to the elements (players). They conform to the 'rules' conveniently. Each of the players performing as they do naturally but the whole process 'becoming' a universe.

The rules that we commonly accept as governing our universe are merely additional tweaks. A bit like saying that 'The Eroica' exists because Beethoven wrote it. It really exists because of the rules governing vibration of string and reed, the production of sound waves on percussion of stick and drum and brass.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

LADY BANANA: Yay! I'm A Cyclist (with a sore bum!)

LADY BANANA: Yay! I'm A Cyclist (with a sore bum!)

I can sympathise! This is crucial. Get a saddle that allows for longer distances!
No cycling today.