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Showing posts from September, 2009

Behind the Watershed

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Yesterday was the first day of the new academic year. Suddenly the university was full of new students. Some people might think this a bad thing - " Oh, the university is a great place to work - apart from the students! HA HA HA HA! " - but personally I think the place comes alive during the term. Some people talk about the importance of research, but students are a university's lifeblood. The frightening thing is that some of the new intake are born in in the nineties. I'm sorry but I'm going to have to call the police. That is quite clearly ridiculous. I've said it before and I'll say it again - they put the twenty-first century on at the wrong speed. Hang the DJ. Freshers' Week seems a lot more exciting now that in was in my day. Everyone just seems a hell of a lot cooler and there are marquees everywhere. If you buy The Guardian you'll probably get a free mug, DVD of Bend it Like Beckham and a cranberry juice box. If you go to the F

The Big Brain Fight

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I haven't yet read enough to start wresting with my consciousness again this morning, but rest assured I will. However, whilst reading and rereading what I have so far, it's interesting to note the differences in attitude between people on different sides of the debate. In the red corner we have the Dualists who believe that the mind and the body are separate; that the mind is in some way an incorporeal entity which is currently occupying the body. And in the blue corner we have the Physicalists who believe that you are your body alone and that the mind is simply a property or even just a byproduct of an operational brain. Seconds away, round one. Ding . I quite like getting splinters in my bottom so I'm still sitting on the fence. I find the Dualist stance more interesting and appealing, but as someone with a scientific background I can't help feeling that the Physicalist position is far more likely. The way they behave whilst arguing their corner also tends to s

Cartesian Theatre Company

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"For all I know I'm probably at one. My body, that is. It goes to a lot of parties without me. Says I only get in the way." Douglas Adams, HHGTTG Secondary Phase Is anyone else bothered by the fact that they might not exist? I used to suffer from blackouts when overindulging in alcohol. Thankfully this hasn't happened to me for quite a while and I'm hoping to keep it that way - it's always massively disquieting. The odd thing about these episodes though was that when I next saw the friends with whom I'd spent this lost time they more often than not say how much fun I was being, how witty I was and how it was good to see me relaxing and letting myself go once in a while. (Occasionally they'd say I just started slurring, stumbling and then fell asleep in a corner, but let's not go into that). But what I want to know is who was in control during these times? Who made the jokes, who relaxed and let himself go? Not me, that's for sure. I'd h

Metaphorplay

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If you think back to when you were taught English at school, if anything at all stuck with you - apart from the constant punches to the arm from that bastard at the next desk when Mr Hartley wasn't looking - it was this. Similes and Metaphors - specifically the differences between them. The former is saying that something is like something else; the latter is saying that something is something else. However, saying "David Cameron is a human being" isn't a metaphor. It's a statement of fact. Similes and metaphors are both describing something by comparing it to something it's not - they're not facts. "David Cameron is a weasel" is a metaphor; "David Cameron is like a weasel" is a simile - as far as I'm concerned they're both descriptive of Cameron's demeanor, and the only discernible difference is that one sentence has the word "like" in it. Why do English teachers bang on about it so much then? It's not j

Malicious Compliance

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The alarm clock failed to wake me up this morning. Then again is that entirely fair? The alarm clock is either switched on or off - I do that. If it's switched on it will ring at the time for which it is set. By me. So if I don't wake up it is entirely my fault. The clock didn't fail - it's an inanimate object, it can't fail. I failed. Then again as an inanimate object it doesn't need people to be "fair" to it either. I don't have an alarm clock, by the way. I use the alarm function on my mobile phone. But my original point still stands. Inanimate objects, no matter how much it may seem otherwise, are incapable of behaving in a passive-aggressive manner. In fact they're incapable of behaving at all - that's what inanimate means. When it seems as if everything is ranged against us, it's usually a reflection of our own state. We are disorganised, unprepared; our own inadequacies are flinging obstacles in our path. I don't know wh

The Observable Universe

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It's been a while since I've been anywhere with really dark skies. There's too much light pollution around. Sometimes when I've been up in Scotland the skies have been moderately impressive, but I haven't seen terrifying numbers of stars since being somewhere on the Norfolk Broads in the mid-nineties. Do you know what I mean by terrifying stars? Too many to count in a pitch black sky; the Milky Way as plain as a pikestaff. It's deep space and it's right there. It makes me want to rush inside to hide and yet at the same time it's strangely compelling - I want to lie flat stare up into the sky and go mad. It's almost like Asimov's Nightfall . I am not sure why such a sight should be so alarming; perhaps it's the vast numbers and distances involved. Our minds are not accustomed to dealing with such things and now we no longer have the gods to blame everything on, there's no one in charge. Just like the very small, the arena of the ve

Research Engine

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Well, I did it. Instead of writing an entry in this blog, I used yesterday morning's post-sleep confusion for writing a short section of my novel. It did seem to have worked; forcing myself to write this every day has made writing in general a little easier. But I am forgetting the first rule of daily blog and will shut up forthwith. Some have claimed that writing SF or fantasy is harder that most other forms of fiction because you have to make everything up yourself whereas writers of, say, crime or historical novels have a ready made toolkit of situations and props. They don't have to spend time making up the background; it already exists. I'm not so sure this makes things easier. If it already exists, you have to get it right . If you don't get it right and make it into print, someone somewhere will notice. For instance in one of Glen Duncan 's novels - I can't remember which one - the protagonist reminisces about being a teenager in the late seventies.

I'm sure this has happened before

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I got a feeling of déjà vu this morning with regard to waking up in the "night" only to discover that the alarm is just around the corner. I'm therefore passing it on to anyone reading this who also read yesterday's entry - déjà vu as infection. Except of course it isn't déjà vu as it actually did happen before. For genuine déjà vu to be declared the experience you think you've had before has to be a new one and both you and I have proof (in the form of yesterday's blog entry) that it isn't so. Promnesia is not a rather specialised term for forgetting to go to the Royal Albert Hall, it's the scientific term for déjà vu. I like it - perhaps the scientific snob in me thinks that it somehow gives the experience more weight. And perhaps because it's easier to type. And yet promnesia is as of yet poorly understood. The interesting thing I find about it is how compelling the feeling can be sometimes - the almost-but-not-quite ability to be

3am Eternal

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"At night if he suddenly screams and wakes Do they bring him only a few small cakes Or a LOT For the Akond of Swat?" Edward Lear, The Akond of Swat Waking in the night can be confusing if it's still dark. You have no idea what time it is. When you finally look at your watch it can be a big surprise. Sometimes it's a pleasant one; if you've been deeply asleep it usually feels as if you've been offline for many hours, so discovering it's still only 2am and that you've still got the whole night ahead of you is welcome relief. On other occasions, such as this morning for me, the reverse is true. It will be 5.30am or something and you realise that the alarm clock is just around the corner. In these latter cases it's rare that you actually get to sleep again because you're so worried about getting to sleep again. You want to make the most of what little downtime you have left. Eventually you manage it at around t-minus three minutes. However, a

Big Numbers

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Every word I type I am adding to the sheer volume of information created by the human race and increasing the complexity of the universe. If you look up the amount of information created and stored over the last few years it's becoming ridiculous. In 2008 a total of 3,892,179,868,480,350,000,000 new bits were created. That's brand new bits, never mind all the rest of recorded history up until 2007. Let's get that into some kind of perspective and convert into bytes. Eight bits to a byte, that gives us 486,522,484,000 gigabytes, which is still generally the largest storage unit people are currently comfortable with - although I have a one terabyte hard disk sitting under my desk. It's still difficult to get this into perspective though. A gigabyte is approximately 1000 times the capacity of an old fashioned floppy disk, remember them? A floppy disk was approximately two millimetres thick. So, a gigabyte is approximately a two metre high stack of floppies. A terabyte

Clairvoyeur

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I have yet to do any research into earworms. I will do though, so watch this space. Or listen to this space. If you look at the comments for yesterday's entry though, you'll see that the That's A Bit Hot song bears some resemblance to a song a friend in London wrote and recorded relatively recently. Coincidence, or something stranger? Generally I am a bit of a born-again sceptic these days (or skeptic as the spell checker would have it) so I would tend to put these things down to coincidence. Coincidences are commoner than you might think. In the age of the iPod people started to notice this - they kept complaining of their iPod having "moods" when it kept picking songs by a particular artist or songs from a particular album during shuffle. This was not the birth of the arcane process of ipodomancy; iPods genuinely were picking random songs. It was just that the human brain, as has been observed before, is very good at looking for patterns and assigning them

That's A Bit Hot

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I've got a song stuck in my head, going round and around. It's bad enough at the best of times when that happens, but at least you can usually dislodge it by seeking it out on iTunes or youTube and then playing it a million times. This isn't the best of times. I can't do that in this case; I heard the song in a dream the other night, so it (probably) doesn't exist. So I'm a bit stumped. The song was accompanied by a video; a punk singer with a green mohican stumbling around a derelict room as he sung. I can't remember the bulk of the lyrics but it seemed to be a bit of a list of words, six two-syllable words to be precise, something like: "Outside, inside / Upside, downside / Onside, offside" At which point he'd open a wooden hatch in the wall and lean through into the wall cavity. The next words I remember exactly: "Ooh, that's a bit hot" And off he'd go again. The chorus was something like: "That's a bit hot! T

Entropy Again

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Some days my contact lenses just won't go in. Well it's more usually just one lens that won't go in. Most of the time it's the right eye. This means, as I have different prescriptions in each eye, that over time I'm gradually building up a surfeit of left lenses. This upsets my sense of order. Entropy again. You can't get away from it. Since yesterday's post I have been thinking more about entropy and about how it seems to go against the grain when it comes to what's happening on Earth. Now I'm no physicist and I'm sure I've already committed any number of semantic howlers when talking about things that are a bit beyond me. Please, stay your patronising little chuckles-to-self. Just because I don't understand the intricacies of the theory doesn't mean I can't explore ideas and conduct thought experiments. For example, I'm boiling a beaker of water in a room in which gravity works in reverse. What do you mean gravity ca

Old Man's Knee

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I've got a stiff knee at the moment. It means that for the last couple of days I have used a walking stick on occasion. This is, quite clearly, ridiculous. As I mentioned earlier I don't think I'm a proper Grown Up yet, so I can't possibly have skipped straight to Old Man. Can I? It's probably because I'm not getting enough exercise. There were a few weeks in the summer when I was being quite well behaved and cycling to work every day. Then things like bus passes and the occasional bad weather day happened and now I find myself in the middle of a weekly saver which means I have to get the bus even if it is a nice day. In addition if I weighed less my knee would have less stress on it so I could diet in more earnest I suppose. After all I don't have any difficulty not answering the phone any more; I should likewise be able to ignore at least some of the cold calls my stomach sends up to my brain. Of course all this would be a lot easier if I was still yo

Pop Tarot

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"...her speech is nothing Yet the unshaped use of it doth move The hearers to collections. They aim at it And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts; Which, as her winks, and nods, and gestures yield them" Shakespeare, Hamlet I've always had a lot of time for the Tarot . On the one hand I'm sure there isn't literally a lot of power in them little cards , namely you couldn't put two Rider-Waite decks in an occult blender and extract enough magic juice to levitate a three pound toad for seventeen minutes. On the other hand I think they can be a very useful tool for opening a window into our subconscious. It is popularly believed that the cards have paranormal significance, but for much of their existence they were simply used for playing games; it's only in recent centuries that they acquired arcane cachet. They're largely used for fortune telling now - but of course you can use almost anything that throws up random patterns for divination, read

The Shape of Numbers

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I used to think everyone saw numbers like me; but apparently not. I've always seen them as steps, initially going from left to right. One is at the bottom of course. They increase in height as the numbers increase, shallow as flagstones at this point. Until we reach ten . At this point there's a hairpin bend - probably consisting of eleven and twelve . By the time we get to thirteen we're heading back in the opposite direction, steeper this time. It gets steeper and steeper as we approach nineteen , then suddenly we are on a plateau again; the twenties . The final section of this group of ten is a bit steeper than the beginning, but once we reach thirty it flattens out to a plateau again. This pattern is repeated all the way up to ninety . There's also a gentle curve to all the numbers from twenty up to ninety-nine ; a curve towards camera. By the time we reach one hundred we're somehow high above one (I realise you'd have to be Escher to make this wo

Goal Oriented

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I'm off to London for a band rehearsal in Stoke Newington this afternoon; hopefully my fingertips are still hardened from last week's experience so typing tomorrow won't be quite as sore as it was last Monday. The rehearsal itself is in the afternoon from two until five; three hours, a reasonable chunk of time but not something that's going to take up the while day. The thing is though; it does. It's not because of the travelling to and from London either; the London to Brighton line is pretty fast as long as there aren't engineering works (and there don't seem to be today, I've checked). It's my own fault; it's the way I look at it. Sometimes I seem to be goal oriented and as long as I get one "main" thing done per day I am, on some level, satisfied. However, on another level I just don't think that's good enough. To make the most out of days on which I'm lucky enough not be at work I really should be doing several "

Vernal Anxiety

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It is hard to believe that I was swimming in the sea only last Monday, given the behaviour of the intervening days. Even though in theory the weather shouldn't know what month we humans call it, somehow it knows it's now September and can therefore stop making an effort. Bloody September. There's something about early September in particular that induces depression, the early tell-tale symptoms of SAD. It's the academic year in the UK that has of course coloured my impression of this month. In general, like so many children, I loathed school with a vengeance, so it's no surprise that the approaching menace of the Autumn Term felt like the end of the world. Dampness and dead leaves; to these add the smells of floor polish, mothballs and revolting wads of chewing gum stuck to the underside of battered wooden desks so ancient they still had inkwells. Simmer over the heat of Victorian radiators in a dungeon-like room containing thirty teenage boys; drizzle with chal

Gone Wrong

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Not all nightmares are as easily described as the Dobods. One that bothered me from childhood all the way through my teenage years and (just about) into the twenties was just ... odd. It was more a feeling than a scenario, although quite often there would be clues that one was imminent. Walking down a deserted street alongside an interminable brick wall into which every so often tiny four inch square windows were cut, revealing people's faces. Large moving machinery; often elevators large enough to contain a double decker bus. And above all, the colour. Everything was suffused with reddish brown. The colour (I imagined) of viscera. The main component of the dreams, though, was that things just Felt Wrong. After a while any logical components, such as walking down the street, other people, recognisable objects, broke down and I was left with just thoughts, feelings and sensations. None of which made sense. All of which contradicted themselves. I felt enormous and weighty, const

Dobod Dreams

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"There's a Dobod over there And it's coming over here Coming to get Poor Chrissy" Whilst on the subject of my childhood, the sky wasn't the only place I saw unusual things. For several years I was tormented by recurring nightmares featuring a cast of creatures from my own imagination. By far the worst were the Dobods - I suppose they were the equivalent of the Daleks in my personal nightmare canon. They had a particularly distinctive modus operandi; I'd always know one was coming because I'd hear a hollow heartbeat in the background of whatever dream I was currently enjoying. The colour would drain out of the landscape and all of the other people present would become indistinct and then vanish. If it had been day, it would now be night. The heartbeat would continue, "Dob - Od - Dob - Od - Dob - Od..." hence the name. I would no longer be outside. I'd be in a labyrinthine wooden panelled house and I'd wander the corridors - or someti

Toy Dawn

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I'm back to writing this at the crack of dawn as my miniature break from work is over. Once again I had mild anxiety dreams about work last night so obviously the enforced break wasn't quite enough to relax fully. The odd thing is that whenever I dream about work it's always completely different from reality and more often than not there are beds there. For some reason. I think it's because I am in the unusual situation of working somewhere I used to live. Sussex is a campus university; most days I walk past both York House where I lived in the first year and Norwich House where I lived in the third. So my present day Work Dreams are confused with my Dreams Of The Past, not to mention the standard Academic Anxiety Dreams. It's not really dawn of course, nowhere near. The seagulls have been up for hours. I was interested to read that there are in fact three dawns per day. Astronomical Dawn , Nautical Dawn and Civil Dawn . The differences are all rather dull an

Feels Like Summer

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I'm still on my Bank Holiday Weekend - having a bit of an extended remix. Things have been rather busy at work of late and I had a few days to use up before the end of the academic leave year, so I took the Friday and the Tuesday off as well, giving myself a five day weekend. I'm rather astonished and more than a little annoyed to find myself on the last day of it already. Of course one of the major problems I find with working at a University is that people find it very difficult to disabuse themselves of the impression that I have the summer off. Even after I've explained that only undergraduates and senior academics disappear for three months and that in fact their absence means that the summer is one of our busiest times for me working as I do in IT seeing as it gives us time to update and upgrade... I still get people asking me when I'm going back to college, where I went away for the summer and whether I'm having a good break. So, given that it's been s