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Mar 2010

An Amazing Coincidence

We were watching "Rivers with Griff Rhys Jones" on the TV, a series which has visited many rivers in England. Tonight he was visiting the fens of Norfolk and finished the programme with a trip along the River Stour back to his home outside Harwich.

At one of the places he stopped he showed a painting by John Constable called Flatford Mill. Jean noticed that it was the same picture that we have over the mantlepiece in the living room. We bought the picture at Vinnies in Brookvale on one of our grey nomad trips to Sydney because it was an iconic reminder of the old dart. We thought it could have been somewhere in Lancashire but it is a lovely reminder of the English countryside.

Now that we know where it is in Suffolk and that it is a copy of a famous Constable painting, we will value it very highly and will be very happy to have it on the wall.

Posted: 30/3/10 9:47 PM

I have read "The Trouble with Physics" by Lee Smolin

I have read all of Lee Smolin's book which my son-in-law, Jeremy recommended to me when I said that I was having some trouble with modern physics.

In the last five chapters of the book he reflects on what is happening in academia and how it is affecting the progress of science.

He has a view that all the "seniors" in science only accept the views of "juniors" if the juniors accept the view of the seniors. He explains how young scientists are unable to find employment unless they choose to work on the theories which are in vogue with those who have authority for appointments.

Smolin used the word groupthink at one point but then said he didn't want to use the term because it implied that the seniors were not good scientists. He understands that the seniors are good scientists but considers that they choose not to allow their juniors to offer competing theories. He makes the point that competing theories are necessary to encourage the exploration the whole spectrum of possibilities.

His central view is that string theory is the in vogue Grand Unification Theory but he is of the view that the many versions of the theory all suffer from a lack of proof. He also claims that there is no experimental evidence of its truth and the string theorists have not proposed any reasonable experiments to prove the theory.

I can relate my trouble in Barraba to Lee Smolin's trouble with physics. I understand that what I observe in most of the the committees I work on are run by "seniors" who do not want to accept any alternatives to the way they do thing. Since they are in control of the organisations the alternative ways of doing things don't see the light of day even when they are good and would improve the performance of the organisation.

Lee Smolin has a view that the "really good juniors" will win out in the end and physics will make significant progress. Of course there is a chance that this will happen in Barraba organisations. I do work on a committee which no longer suffers from groupthink and I expect it to achieve great things in the future. It is already making unexpected progress.

Posted: 24/3/10 3:41 PM

My Current Memory Study

Like many people of my age, I am suffering from short term memory difficulties.

I often go into another room to do something and can't remember what it was that I wanted to do when I get there. I have worked out a mental exercise that usually brings back the memory in a short time which I find quite helpful

Recently I have been reviewing and revising my iPhoto Library. One of the areas I spent a lot of time on was my collection of photos of camping places I took for Camps Australia Wide when I was a grey nomad. I was amazed at how many photos I recognized. Sometimes I had to refer to the diary to confirm the locations but mostly my memory was very good.

I guess this illustrated that short term memory and long term memory are two quite different mental processes. We all know of grand parents who could tell stories about their childhood and younger years but who had trouble remembering what happened yesterday or last week.

As I mentioned above, short term memory loss is a common problem in people of my generation. When I talk to my contemporaries about the problem, they usually say that they have the same difficulties. I guess that programmed cell death in brain cells which presumably increases with age is the cause but it is hard for an engineer to understand why long term memory is affected much less.

I suppose that I could do some research on the subject to increase my understanding if I had the time.

Posted: 21/3/10 7:51 AM

More evidence of the unsustainable distortion of the economy

Watching The Antiques Roadshow on TV this afternoon, I saw a quite ugly painting valued at £stg 100,000. Clearly there are people with such obscene amounts of disposable income who presumably expect to make lots of money when they sell the stuff they buy.

The disconnect between the nominal value of money from the underlying production and service provision has devalued products and services relative to those artefact which the rich buy. The foundation of an economy is the value of its production and service provision so this devaluation is a gross distortion of the economy which can only have quite destructive effects on the members of the economy who spend their lives working on the production of real goods and the provision of real services which will presumably lead to a collapse of the foundations of the economy.

Posted: 16/3/10 6:00 PM

Reflections on the Weather

Today has been an odd weather day. As sometimes happens around this time of year there are a lot of cumulus clouds around the town. The gaps in the clouds mean that there are some sunny places and lots of shady places. The sunny spots seem to move around a lot.

On a recent journey back from Tamworth I observed this pattern of cumulus clouds all to way home.

My observation of the clouds is that they do not move and change only very slowly.

I assume that the cumulus clouds are formed from evaporation of the moisture in the soil. The vapour rises into the sky until it reaches a layer of low temperature air where it condenses into clouds.

The lack of movement is presumably due to a lack of wind in the cold air layer. I don't have any theory about what causes the changes in the pattern of sunny areas.

The only problem this weather causes is that I sometimes go out into the shade without a hat and then the sun comes out without any warning.

Posted: 13/3/10 2:54 PM

Another Example of the distortions in the 21st Century Culture

This morning I hit upon a link to an organisation called Team Earth. The introductory sentence read "Team Earth, a unique coalition of NGOs, private sector companies and individuals convened by Conservation International (CI), announced today the launch of 'Do More, Do Less,' an ongoing campaign that encourages the fair and sustainable use of the earth's resources through individual action."

I trawled through the site but found the navigation extremely confusing. First there were two button on the home page marked "Do More" and "Do Less". As I had been confused by the motto I clicked on each of the buttons and was taken by each on to the same join up page which had some more confusing links. Try as I might I could not get to a page which talked about specific actions one could take (except a suggestion that buying coffee at Starbucks would contribute 5c a cup to global forest protection).

I thought about joining because that seemed like a good idea for a Transitioner but decided that a 20th century person like me was definitely not who they were looking for. Since I could not get any real understanding from their website, I assumed that any other information they would send me would be incomprehensible to a 20th century person like me.

I recently read a piece that claimed that my generation is much less literate that the present generation! I guess that means the we only work with old fashioned (real) English and don't work well with 21st century internet gobbledegook.

Posted: 11/3/10 8:42 AM

A Totally Successful Escape

The sheep found a way of removing the stuff I had put on the wire netting to keep them from getting into the back lawn. The other day Jean pointed out that one of the little sheep was in the back lawn.

When I went out to get it back in they had all followed. I herded them back into the paddock and then adjusted the stuff holding the wire down to stop them repeating the escape.

We had to go to Tamworth for a couple of appointments. When we got back in the afternoon the sheep were nowhere to be seen. I found that they had moved the pallet I had used to stop the earlier gap.

I went round to the owners house to report the escape and found that the sheep were back in their own paddock. Cathy did not know how they had got back but she did say that they were "homing sheep". We assume that the sheep headed for home and that someone saw them and put them back in their own paddock.

I surprise myself now every time I go into the kitchen as I always look into the back paddock to check on the livestock.

We had a Barraba River Landcare Group market stall in Queen Street last Saturday. We were the only stall because the others had not set up as it was Barraba Show day and most of the people were at the showground.

We were selling books, cakes, and bric-a-brac and had my laptop running a DVD showing a film of the current state of the river and some brochures from the Catchment Management Authority to give away. I manned this end of the table and had quite a few people stop to talk.

I was surprised to learn some new things. One was that a lady farmer had determined that the pumping town water from the bores had affected the water in the river. The other was a report from a long time resident who remembered when there were no willow trees on the river. He said that a councillor way back had arranged to plant willows on the river bank. I was fascinated that the aim of restoring the river to its pristine condition would be well satisfied if we removed all the willows and replaced them with native trees from this area.

Posted: 10/3/10 4:52 PM

Another lesson from the sheep

When I got up this morning and looked out of the kitchen window, I saw one of the sheep feeding in the back lawn.

I went down to get some pellets to encourage the animal back and found that the other five had followed the first one into the back lawn. They all followed me into the back paddock because I had bucket of pellets. I saw that the first escapee had got under the wire netting I had put on the gate because I hadn't tied it on properly.

I got out the tie wire and the tools and got down on my knees and fixed the wire to prevent further escapes. Happily it wasn't raining but I must have looked quite odd out in my dressing gown doing fencing.

I guess I'm learning country techniques very slowly but I am improving gradually.

Posted: 3/3/10 8:51 AM

More Farm Hand Work

Just as I was about to start work on the Library, I saw the sheep in the next door paddock. Mark had left us a bucket of feed so I went down with it. The sheep recognized the bucket and ran to the gate. I opened it and they all ran back in and tried to get all the feed out of the bucket. While I was attending to the sheep, the two horses who live in the next door paddock came through the open gate and started to feed on the long grass. With Jean's help, I got the sheep away from the gate and after a lot of chasing, I got the horses back in their own paddock.

I realised that the sheep had got under the wire of the dividing fence so I bought some more tent pegs and sealed up some of the spaces. Unfortunately the hardware shop didn't have any more suitable tent pegs so I might had more escapes. We have go to Tamworth on Thursday so I will be able to get more tent pegs to seal all the spaces.

Posted: 1/3/10 1:31 PM

Another take on the 21st Century

This morning as I read my regular internet postings I came across several items that appalled me because they demonstrate that the influence of immoral behaviour in the cyber world is dramatic, socially damaging and unconstrained by the law.

The first was a piece on Comp.risks about GPS jammers which are moving towards forcing incorrect positions on GPS receivers in range. The blogger commented that the use of digital processes in todays society like rental car tracking gives rise to the invention of counter measures.

The second piece was a report of a case of a man being murdered because he was trying to defend his aunt who was being attacked by her "boyfriend" because he had found that she had a new "friend" on Facebook.

Another piece on Slashdot was about a court case in Italy in which employees of Google were indicted because Google had allowed a video to be posted that showed a group of people bullying an autistic person. Their defence that they had nothing to do with generating or posting the video was rejected by the court because the Italian defamation laws did not allow this defence.

Another piece was about the use of webcams in school supplied laptops to "spy" on children at home. The schools claim that the process they installed was designed to trace the laptops when they were stolen but there are now reports of schools punishing students for "inappropriate behaviour" at home. One of the comments in this piece was about a girl who takes her laptop with her into the bathroom when she is showering. It seems that some, perhaps most, of the iGeneration are very unaware of the results of their cyber behaviour. Stories about botnets seem to me to show that cyber crime is rampant and that law enforcement against it is sadly lacking in effectiveness. Is this the new "Wild West".

Posted: 1/3/10 6:58 AM


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