Monday, January 29, 2007

What’s On TV?

Like many middle-aged men, set in their ways and attempting to exercise minute forms of control over the universe, I like to sit down with the TV guide each week and circle my choices with a red felt pen. As my father before me, I too refuse to let my son circle his programmes in biro until I have placed my mark on the forthcoming TV schedules, thereby clearly stating my position as alpha male in the house.

Maggie doesn’t care much for television, and where I would happily invest in a 50-inch plasma screen if I had the money, she feels a 15-inch portable takes up quite enough space as it is and in an ideal world we wouldn’t have a telly at all. The Antiques Roadshow and Masterchef are the only programmes she insists on watching, although she is partial to the occasional bit of The Vicar of Dibley. Beyond that, however, I’m allowed to hold dominion over the TV, apart from when the kids get in from school, that is.

After breakfast this morning, Maggie was casually glancing through the Radio Times when, just as I was about to make a breakthrough in a “Diabolically Hard” puzzle in my “Extreme Sudoku” book, her hand slammed suddenly and purposefully, hard down on the paper as she uttered “No, No, No!”

“What is it, oh sweetness of my life?” I asked.

She turned and fixed me with a hard stare. “We are not watching ‘Strictly Lady Sumo’ tomorrow night!”


I can’t imagine how it got circled. Meg must have been randomly scribbling in the TV guide again…

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Total Perspective Vortex

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Have you ever looked up at a mountain and felt so small by comparison?

We tend to think of the world as having quite a knobbly surface – more so in Scotland, less so in Holland. And yet, if you were to make an exact scale replica of the Earth that was a 1 metre diameter ball, then the difference between the top of Everest to the depths of the Marianas Trench would be no more than about 1.5mm. It would seem very smooth indeed - certainly nothing to spike your thumb on.

Before I move on, I want you to take a moment to look at this one metre ball in your hands – the planet you live on - where people are so small that you would need a powerful microscope to see them worrying about whether they should have rice or pasta with their dinner tonight, and getting beaten up because they were wearing the wrong coloured football shirt. This is your world, the only one you’ve got. Hold it, love it, feel that connection to it. There now, are you ready for the next bit?

Now, at the same scale (the world being 1 metre across) our major energy source, the sun, would be an intense, raging ball of fire that was 87m in diameter; and this football pitch sized sun would be sitting about 6 miles away. As for our local neighbours, Pluto would be about 240 miles yonder.

The next nearest star to us, Alpha Centauri, on the same scale, would be about 1,700 miles away, our galaxy, the Milky Way, would be 43 million miles across, and the furthest galaxies away that have been observed by astronomers would be 6 thousand billion miles off into the distance. And that’s just the bits they know about.

Let’s back up a little and go back to our neighbourhood, the Solar system, as the numbers have become too big again to make any real connection. At our current scale, it’s about 500 miles across and contains one fireball the size of a football pitch, a blue and green beach ball, and a scattering of planets, ranging in size from tennis balls to a medium sized house.

Now compress this 500 miles down to the size of a coin, such as an American quarter, or a British 10 pence piece. At this point you would need an even more powerful microscope to even find the Earth, and you would have no chance of seeing whether these tiny specks on this insignificant particle were still busy killing other tiny specks over whose God is the real one. Where was I? Oh yes. So, we’ve got our quarter, or 10p, representing our solar system and we drop in somewhere in America or Europe, because at this scale, our galaxy, would be approximately the same size as either of these land masses.

Starting to get a sense of perspective yet?

Now let’s shrink the Milky Way down to the size of a CD. At this level, Andromeda, the next nearest galaxy, would be sitting approximately 8 feet away, while the edge of the observable universe would be about 9 miles off in any direction.

Ok, how are we doing? Have you managed to get a sense of the sheer size of the universe yet and how big your ego is by comparison?

Right then, let’s tackle time.

The universe has been about for approximately 15 billion years, but this too is a number that doesn’t mean anything to us: lots of zeros; too big to think about. So let’s compress the age of the universe down into something more manageable, something we can grasp, like a century, for example.

If we use this scale, then the Earth would only have come together something like 36 years ago, the first microbial life would have formed some nine years later and dinosaurs would have become extinct about 5 months back.

On the same scale, human beings have been in their current stage of evolution for only 7 hours and 20 minutes of those hundred years, the pyramids were built approximately 18¼ minutes ago, and my entire life counts for about 8½ seconds.

So using scales that I can at least partially begin to grasp, my existence in the universe is the equivalent to something smaller than a sub-atomic particle that exists for only a few seconds on a 10p coin lost somewhere in Europe, that in turn is only as small as a CD in an area of 300 square miles.

And yet I still try and make sense of it all.

Pathetic really.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Who, why, what

Who am I?
Why am I here?
And what the fuck am I supposed to be doing with my life?

Sorry about that – just another midlife reality attack.

Friday, January 19, 2007

If we could hold conversations with animals, would we all be vegetarians?

This is the latest question over at LovetoLead. Please click on the button to improve my chances of winning a laptop. If you leave your email address when you vote you get entered into a draw for a laptop too

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If we could hold conversations with animals, would we all be vegetarians?

Well of course we would, most of us anyway, except cannibals, and rednecks. It’s much harder to kill and eat something you can identify with.

In this day and age where most meat comes pre-packaged, few make any real connection between the chewy stuff in their mouths and real live animals. In fact, many people who live in cities have never even seen a cow, pig or chicken up close. If they had to be there when it was killed, they’d probably be eating lentils for the rest of their lives, and that’s without animals talking. If they were to start pleading for their lives, or cracking a few good jokes, very few would be able to face munching on their flesh with a crispy side-salad.

Then again, if it’s easier to eat something you can’t empathise with, if the animals started spouting a right-wing, neo-con agenda, I’d be asking for the ketchup faster than you could say “do you want fries with that?”

Well, ok, probably not…

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How Others See Us

There is often considerable difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. This should not be much of a surprise given that we are party to all the internal dialogue that no one else is.

We know the entire debate and reasoning that goes on in our own heads before any given action, yet others will only see the outcome without knowledge of our calculations. We know we always intended to return the library book even if the librarian thinks we are the lowest kind of scum, intent on depriving society of its chance to enhance its culture and education.

Although this difference of personal view should be obvious, it isn’t. And sometimes we wonder how on earth people have reached certain conclusions about us when it is abundantly clear to us that our real selves are someone quite different.

For example, Attila the Mom recently wrote a piece about how her blogging buddies all share at least one quality with her dog (Cheaper than Therapy: Blog Pimpin’ With the Dogg). Where some were listed with qualities such as “best friend ever”, “loyal and kind” and “chases balls with a vengeance”, she had me down as “warm and fuzzy”.

There’s no doubt that this contrasts dramatically with my own vision of myself as a sort of cross between Batman and James Bond, with a little bit of George Clooney thrown in, who just took a different career path so didn’t end up with the same opportunities to express himself.


Friday, January 12, 2007

The Four Feathers

I was awake at 4am, again, the other morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. An hour later I gave up trying and went downstairs, put the heating on and snuggled under a blanket on the sofa to watch a DVD I’d borrowed from my Dad.

The film was the 2002 remake of The Four Feathers and the reason I’d lifted it from my father’s shelf last time I visited was because my mate Dave has regaled me with so many stories about when he was in Morocco and found himself cast as an extra in the movie.

Dave’s stories were considerably better than the film.

It’s one of those Boys Own type stories full of action, heroism and loyalty among upper class officers in the British Army fighting the fuzzy wuzzies in Africa. It was written at a time when it was well known that God was British as He had ordained we should own most of the world and set about civilising the natives in the most patronising way possible, while shipping the wealth and resources of these countries back to Britain to help keep it Great.* The best versions of this film, therefore, are the ones that were created before WWII, when the British Empire was still intact and the movies can be seen within that context.

This remake fails either to recapture the essence of the earlier cultures, or successfully put a modern slant on it. Consequently, I really wouldn’t bother wasting 2 hours of your life on it.

However, I think I might have spotted Dave.

What do you think? He’s got a very distinctive brow.

* Using this theological interpretation, God has clearly been American for the past few decades, but it looks like he’s becoming Chinese now.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Will the human race ever populate another planet?

Just trying out something new. If it works I'll keep with it and recommend it to the Philosophy Class.

There's a site just launched today - Love to Lead - where:
Each week for the next 16 weeks L2L will pose a question designed to stimulate debate between bloggers. Visitors will be able to vote for their favourite article and the blogger whose post receives the greatest number of votes each week will win a Toshiba Portégé R400 laptop
So, the vague hope I can win a Toshiba, and because it might be a bit of fun, I'm submitting to their first debate, which is "Will the human race ever populate another planet?"

Read my response below then head over and either vote for me, or write your own rival entry :)

Will the human race ever populate another planet?
The simple fact is that if the human race doesn’t populate another planet, it will die out. It’s just a matter of time before the planet will become uninhabitable for human beings, so the only question is whether it will be sooner, due to human causes (global warming, pollution etc) or later, due to natural causes (expansion of the sun, impact by meteor etc).

So population of other planets is a necessity, but this is dependent on the desire and the technology. The technology will only be developed if the desire becomes strong enough. As the perception of the threat increases, so the incentive to develop the technology will increase. Therefore, barring unforeseen accidents, it is only a matter of time before they will.

Now head over to Love to Lead and vote for me!
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Guns don't kill people - chocolate does.

“Guns don’t kill people - people kill people” is the rallying cry of the National Rifle Association of America.

At 4 o’clock this morning while I was lying in bed, dripping in sweat as my screwed up metabolism, which usually leaves me slow and sluggish when I really need it, decided that the middle of the night was a really good time to boost my energy levels, I was pondering an analogous situation with regard to food and the recent gluttonous season. “Chocolate doesn’t make you fat – eating chocolate makes you fat” could be one way of putting it, implying, as does the gun statement, that you cannot blame the object of desire, only the person who implements the action.

Of course, if you’re emotionally vulnerable, it’s much easier to kill people if you have guns. And it’s much easier to eat chocolate if it’s in the house.

Especially if it’s left over from Feastmas and with all the decorations now removed it should be disposed of.

And because of your upbringing you have a problem with the idea of throwing food away.

And your sugar levels are all over the place after a fortnight of excessively indulgent eating patterns.

And the kids don’t go back to school until tomorrow so officially it’s still the holidays.

And it’s in the same room as you.

And it keeps calling out in a soft and seductive voice, “eat me, eat me, eat me…”

Thursday, January 04, 2007

£16.99 instead of a new computer

“That’ll be your power supply,” said Mark, “Just put a new one in.”

Mark is a Novell and LINUX network design & support, solutions and services provider. If you understood that last sentence then your business would probably benefit from NDS8, the company he works with. Personally I don’t understand a word and just lifted it from the website. All I know is that in his specialist area he is one of the top guys in the world and is frequently being dragged around the globe to where important people can call on his vast computing knowledge, insights and intelligence. When my computer died on me a few days ago, he was the only person I thought of calling.

When I used to run my web design business, people often assumed that because I worked with computers, I knew how they worked, but that’s like assuming because I know how to drive I must have an intimate knowledge of the internal combustion engine and could build one from scratch if asked to. In reality, when I took the side off the computer to take a look, I wouldn’t have been too surprised to find a portal to another dimension where demons and wizards actually caused the thing to function.

“But it’s just wires all over the place,” I whined, “how am I supposed to know what goes where?”

I took some photos of the multi-coloured spaghetti and emailed them to Mark, then over the phone he calmly explained which bits went where and made the whole thing sound very sensible and straightforward, so today I went and bought myself a power supply unit from a local computer shop and fitted it myself. To my immense surprise, the whole thing is now working again.

It’s not this first time Mark’s bailed me out (see Raising a Toast to Mark) and I do feel a little guilty that if I’d had to pay the going rate for advice from a guy with his level of expertise, it would have been cheaper to buy a new computer.

I’m sure he must get something out of our friendship, although I haven’t figured it out what it might be yet. Perhaps he likes knowing someone who can beat him in backgammon. More likely it’s Maggie’s cooking when he comes to visit.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2007!

Come in, come in!

You'll need to leave a few things at the door - another year of your life, a couple of people you knew and several pounds of fat.

Feel free to wander about and mingle. You'll find several new people to meet and even some you used to know but had forgotten about.

Around the room are various experiences - some are delightful while others are tragic. Unfortunately you're only going to find out which is which after they've introduced themselves.

On the far side is the door to 2008. If you make it then I'll have a certificate waiting for you that says you'll be a wiser person.

Here, have a bit of cheese and pineapple on a cocktail stick...