2014/12/23

A silver horse, a wasted youth.

I complain to my daughter that she spends too much time on her smartphone.

Then I remembered something I did when I was a boy in the 1960s in East Anglia.


We had basically 2 TV channels available.



BBC and ITV



Our ITV channel was Anglia Television.



Anglia Television children's programs started at something like 4:30 p.m.



When bored, I switched on the TV at 3:30 p.m.



During the day, when no programming was on, Anglia TV would broadcast a rotating knight in armour astride a horse. Handel's Watermusic was the sound track.



And I would watch it from 3:30 till 4:30. Around and around and around.


So however much my daughter spends on her cellphone, at least she does not spend an hour watching a model knight in armour go around and around. And around.


It's a miracle!


A bit bored and hunting around for something to look at under my microscope I found a tiny dead fly in the cat's water bowl. So I used a piece of paper to lift I out and have an examine: 



What you can't see in the above photo is the inner organs moving, which they were. It lives! I doubt that it has much of a "brain", but maybe enough to suffer. Maybe not. Anyway I put the piece of paper out on the balcony, the fly could not move much because it was held prisoner by surface tension. Half a day later I went back to see if it was still there. The paper was dry and the fly had flown.

I imagine it flew back to it's friends and said: "A miracle! I thought I was gonna die! Drown! Then somehow I ended up in the open air on a damp surface which dried up. There must be a god!"

Which reminded me of a young bloke I saw on Italian TV who'd just been selected from, I think, something like 20,000 other young blokes to attend the Pope (Benedict XVI) at a ceremony in Rome. "This proves that God exists!" said the chosen youth to the TV cameras. You wally, I thought. You mean that the other 19,999 unchosen ones have suddenly become atheists? How faith destroys reason.

2014/12/16

Bad Comedy, Bad Conceptual Art, Good Comedy, Good Conceptual Art.

There was an exhibition in London earlier this year of conceptual artists who use glass. Well, to be honest, it was an exhibition of conceptual artists who ask skilled crasftmen to make things. And one of the exhibits was an internal combustion engine made of glass. "Oh how clever. Oh how interesting. A robust thing make of a delicate material. Now that is a concept worthy of the name." the critics blathered. Opposite as a high art concept.

Bad comedy is like that. Some bad comedies are based on the fact that a character does or says something and another character or object, does exactly the opposite. And the whole 30 minutes is full of that repeated concept. Opposite as comedy. Here is one:



But there are some good comedies, I don't know how they work, but they do. Intelligent, interesting, novel. Here are a few of my favorite radio comedies, you can find them on the  BBC iPlayer Radio Comedies web site..


Bye!

2014/12/10

Concepts before Language.

Chomsky says that it was likely that concepts arrived before language. And I thought: how could it be otherwise? If there were no concepts what would we have talked about? Hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we were not quite human, the concept of "I agree" was probably communicated to the boss of the monkey troop/tribe by movements, postures, gestures. Then maybe the word "yes" came along. Then another more complex concept occurred to the animal/humans, and afterwards a word was invented for that concept.

- You're an expert are you Owen?

No, just saying. Like. But it strikes me that many people have not really thought about language and yet say you need language for concepts. This idea is rife in Italy, where Latin, though slowly losing it insane grip on intellectuals here, is still considered a neccessity for civilization.

Look at these words:

Solar System

and think about their meaning. Did you hear a voice, or see an image in your mind? Even the most rough and ready explanation of the Solar System is clumsy (as a thought) compared with the image (as a thought).

The following paragraph is a quote from Chomsky and just serves to separate the words above from the image after the paragraph.




"The speed and precision of vocabulary acquisition leaves no real alternative to the conclusion that the child somehow has the concepts available before experience with language and is basically learning labels for concepts that are already part of his or her conceptual apparatus. This is why dictionary definitions can be sufficient for their purpose, though they are so imprecise. The rough approximation suffices because the basic principles of the word meaning (whatever they are) are known to the dictionary user, as they are to the language learner, independent of any instruction or experience."



Do you hear the voice or see the image?




2014/12/05

Color Names and Pure Water

I had an argument with a web designer about a color scheme. The color scheme used by the web designer in a web site could be summarised like this:


I offered an opinion that shades of dirty blue grey were not ideal, especially when used in other components of the web design. It looks like a sky from the end of the world as envisioned by a teenage heavy metal fan, aspiring satanist. The web designer retorted that the colors were not dirty blue grey but were mixes of, wait for it,...

  • Queen Blue
  • Dark Skate Grey
  • Japanese Indigo
  • Moonstone Blue
  • Space Cadet


Now look at the image again, knowing the names:




Does it look a bit nicer now? Maybe. But that does not solve the problem (of the dirty grey blue) because a viewer of the web site would not know the names of the colors used, and so would not be affected by them.

Like homeopathy, the magic doesn't work unless you label it.


2014/12/02

Go! Stop! Stroop!


There's a test somewhere on internet which tests reaction times, or recognition times, of the names of colors. It is a test of the Stroop effect. For example you have to say what color is the text of a word, but the word is green, and maybe it is written in red.



When you do the equivalent test in black and white people are generally more accurate and faster. The problem, presumably, is because the brain recieves two messages...

  1. The color of the letters
  2. What the letters say.

...and has to conciously decide which is correct.

A red arrow stop sign in a traffic light is a place where a shape and a colour disagree. This is why I don't like these traffic lights...


I did not like them even before I heard about the Stroop effect. The red stop arrow I particularly dislike, because an arrow, to me, say "GO! GO! GO!" while the red color says "STOP!"

So, combined, they confuse me. But maybe it is because I'm limited, as my "friends" and "family" hint every now and then. I like simple clarity:


"So how does one indicate direction?" I hear you ask. Well a board above the traffic lights with arrows and pointers and destinations used to be considered a sensible solution...

And here is a traffic sign where shape and colour do agree:

 


Pet Heaven

I've heard some pet owners say they have this fantasy, or maybe belief, that when they pass through the gates of paradise, all the pets they've ever owned will come rushing up to them, happily miaowing and woofing.

And I ask them if all the cows and pigs they've eaten will be there waiting for them too...?

2014/11/29

Point and Squirt

I first came across the "it's a point and squirt" as a description of a low cost camera when working for Pulse Electronics (Avionics) Biggleswade. It was initially a summer job between school and university and I'd shown my boss (note 1) some photos I'd taken years previously. The camera I'd used was a cheap plastic thing which I'd got collecting Basooka Joe chewing gum wrappers and sending them off to the Basooka Joe offices in London. Here's the US version of the offer inside the pack:


The camera was plastic and clunky with a very poor lens, as you can see by the photo of my first cat (note 2):



Look how blurred it is around the edges. But anyway it worked, and it was for almost free, I'd just had to chew a lot. And it was, for my boss, a "point and squirt" camera, it looked like a fake which would squirt water into the face of the person you're taking the photo of.

And I was thinking that most photography, even professional photography, is really just point and squirt, not art at all. Here's an ok but not brilliant photo... 



...I showed to a priest I know (note 3), and as we looked at it we both had the same sort of idea. He said:

"Lovely photo, but who made the clouds?"

He meant God, I thought nature, but I agreed with his sentiments. Sometimes it seems as if photographers want to take credit for creating the object they are photographing. Clouds, a sexy model, a landscape. But really. Let's be honest, compared with what is being photographed, it is mostly point and squirt


Note 1: My boss at Pulse Electronics was great. He taught me to reply to the office phone by saying "Chinese Restaurant". When I first heard him do that I laughed out loud. I still use that trick now and then. "If it's important they'll phone back", he said. He also taught me how to hand solder the first surface mount devices (this was 19??) using a fine tipped soldering iron, tweezers, and a binocular microscope. If I told you what I was soldering I'd have to use that cliche which ends "...kill you!" wink.

Note 2: My first cat was a stray. I said to my Mum: "If he stays for three days can we keep him?" "Er, I suppose so," she replied. So, in secret, I fed him for three days and he stayed with us till he died, quite young, a couple of years later.

Note 3: I've only once met face to face a Christian who clearly and completely believed in God. He works with the poor in South America. He's enthusiastic, fizzy with happiness. I went to the funeral of his mother, which he took. He was only a little sad, but smiled a lot because he knew (and told the congregation) that his mother was in heaven. Living in Italy all the Christians I meet are Catholics, but I get the feeling that deep deep down, they do not believe, even when they insist they do. Only this one priest convinced me of his solid faith.

2014/11/16

What's happened to me? What new horror is this?

I had to go out this morning, it was raining. This image popped into my mind's eye:







Ah. Which blue jacket to wear?



Then: What the hell is happening to me?! How could I seriously be considering that I needed to choose which jacket to wear? And why have I got three? (See note 1. )



At 15 in Biggleswade, Beds, UK, I'd not have hesitated, I'd wear no jacket or whatever came to hand. At 20, at Bath University, I was so arrogant and deluded that I thought girls would see my scruffiness as an attractive recklessness. So it did not matter what I was wore. (I was wrong of course)



Now, a little older, in Milano Italy, before going out, I was actually taking time to consider which jacket to put on. Involuntarily.



So what with the proof of the existence of god and the trilemma of the blue jackets I don't seem to be in control of my thoughts.




Note 1. I have three jackets by because I've surrendered control of my wardrobe entirely to my wife.

2014/11/14

To Die Well, The Caterpillar and the Butterfly.

I don't know about you, but one of my biggest personal fears is dying after a long time in a coma or a long time in a demented state. Although I did not like to confront this fear I eventually did by reading To Die Well:





Wanzer and Glenmullen say that it is very important thing to have a document, witnessed by friends, explaining your wishes for the end of your life. Since I live in Italy, I will probably die in Italy, so I searched for help in writing the document in Italian. I found the site http://www.ilbrucoelafarfalla.org/ (The Caterpillar And The Butterfly). 




The website of this charity creates a PDF document declaring how you want to be treated if you are alive, but so ill you are unable to speak for yourself. The PDF created is based on replies to an online questionnaire, then gives you instructions on who should sign the printed document, who should have copies and who should know it exists. I felt better after I'd done that.






As the doctors in the book write, it is not legal in all countries or states to give a gentle dignified death to someone in distress or even mentally dead, even if requested. But if family, friends, carers, and doctors know what the patient wanted, then their actions would be...

Anyway, like, if I'm totally gah gah then don't resuscitate me after a heart attack. The medical resources could go to someone ill, but with more hope for the future.



Anyway, the Caterpillar And Butterfly site, by its name, suggests that there is life after death. The caterpillar does not die but is transformed into a butterfly. But that got me thinking, does a caterpillar have a brain, a memory, and does the butterfly get the same brain/memory as the caterpillar?



The answer, from this site:






is really strange. Most of the caterpillar's brain and body is broken down then rebuilt into butterfly. And oddly enough the parts of the brain which survive the metamorphosis are the parts which control the leg movement in the caterpillar and wing movement in the butterfly. So something (not much) of the original caterpillar remains in the butterfly.



Here's a picture of a caterpillar:








Against Nature

I remember hearing on the radio, when I was about 20, that the argument that "all is nature so everything that happens is natural (including television and the Mona Lisa)" was a very adolescent argument. The speaker was a BBC Radio 4 cultural commentator who looked down with disdain on the 17 year olds who made this sort of claim. I was irritated with him because I agreed, and agree, with the 17 year olds.

Take homosexuality for example. I can understand those who believe in a religion saying it is against the teaching of this, that, or the other god, prophet, saint or holy book. (And they can be very against it. I heard one Christian almost foaming at the mouth and being about very biologically specific about which orifices are supposed to be used for what purposes). Anyway, this I can understand, coming from "believers".

But there are some atheists who also maintain homosexuality is "against nature". Why? Because it does not promote the continuation of the species. But they reveal themselves, these particular atheists, to be theists in disguise. They assign to nature a purpose (the continuation of the species) and a mind which "wants" the continuation of the species. Something as big as nature that has a mind, desires and objectives sounds a lot like a god to me.

So I'm with the 17 year olds. Everything is nature. If we all turned homosexual and the human race died out, would "Nature" "care"?

2014/11/04

"Cognitive Dissonance" & "Be Wrong or Be Alone."

I was at Stratton Grammar School, Biggleswade, in the 3rd or 4th year, I can't remember. It was summer and our English teacher and form master, E. A. Armitage, was late for the first lesson of a hot afternoon. Someone in the class had the bright idea that we should go away (run away?) and relax under some trees on the other side of the playing fields. The trees were 300 meters away from the classroom. Somehow we pursuaded ourselves that it was a good idea. All but one of us went, leaving the classroom nearly empty.



When we got to the trees, we lay down, started chatting away while looking up through the branches at the blue sky. It was only about 10 minutes before someone said:



"Oh-oh, Armi's seen us and he's coming over."



And we could see, just by his stride, that he was as angry as hell. His shouted questions come back to me now. What did you think you lot were doing!!?!! How did you think we'd get away with it!!?!!



We had no reply of course.



I can't remember how we were punished, but we were.



This incident illustrates two ideas in "Wilful Blindness" by Magaret Heffernan.



Cognitive Dissonance: Holding two contradictory ideas in our minds at the same time. Somehow we thought we could abandon the classroom and it would be ok. And we knew it would not be ok, because it was strictly not allowed by the rules. And most of us held those two ideas in our minds at the same time.



But maybe it was also a bit of Be Wrong or Be Alone. We know the group is wrong. But the need to belong to the group is more powerful than wanting to be right. The one student who stayed in the classroom was right, but he was alone.

What would happen if all my friends were true believers in homeopathy as a cure for cancer and I wasn't? If I got cancer, would I follow their advice so I would not be alone? I hope not.



Anyway, here are some of us in front of our classroom, on a different, happier day, 1977 I think:




2014/10/28

Why are you painting that door yellow?

Watson: "Why are you painting our door yellow Holmes?"
Holmes: "It's a lemon entry my dear Watson."


(Barry Crier and Count Arthur Strong)

2014/10/21

Tricked Again!

I should have payed more attention. I should have been more suspicious. And yet I agreed to go and see a film I'd never heard of at an arty cinema in Legnano. It was "Il Giovane Favoloso" ("The Fabulous Youngster") about the Italian poet Leopardi. And my God it was long, boring and depressing. Here's the poster so you know what to avoid:


During the titles I saw it had been presented at the Venice Film Festival. "Oh ohhh," I thought. Then I saw that about 13 banks and 2 local councils and a TV company had financed it, I realised I'd fallen into a trap again. Having to get money from so many sources to make a film usually means the film will be no good.

So here's how to avoid films like this:



Be alert! It could save your life!


2014/10/15

Proof of the existence of God in four simple steps. Arrrrrrgh!

I've told earlier of my hallucinogenic paraphenelia (earplugs and eye coverings for a midday nap) and normally I enjoy the strangeness of the visions which come. But yesterday I saw four steps of logic which proved the existence of God. (Not Anselmi's...



...much better than his).

As my dreaming brain considered the proof, my heart started beating faster, I got scared and annoyed. I struggled to wake up, which I finally did with a start. Of course I could not remember a single step of the proof. But I remember each step cutting into my brain/mind like a metal claw...

2014/10/10

A Timeless and Universal Lesson Taught by Nature

The cat (I'd like to say our cat but he won't let me) went into the garden and saw a squirrel on the grass a few meters away. Immediately the cat went into "I'm a hunting tiger" stance (despite his weight problem). The squirrel looked at the cat and the cat looked at the squirrel. Here they are in other circumstances:





A few years ago the cat could get to the top of trees 12 meters high, and sway in about in the wind fearlessly. I was so surprised I took a photo (from the third floor):




Then he discovered a nice restaurant on the first floor of our building, a lady who feeds him till he bursts.



So the cat looked at the squirrel and the squirrel looked at the cat, then the squirrel zipped along the grass and up a tree followed by the small podgy tiger. Up the tree the squirrel went. The cat tried it too, but got only a couple of meters before giving up and falling to the ground, breathing heavily and sweating a lot (I imagine).



"So, what is this 'timeless and universal lesson taught by nature' then?"



Keep a check on your Body Mass Index if you want to eat squirrel sandwiches for lunch.




2014/10/03

The flower is dying...

The flower is dying...


...but the seeds are getting ready to fly away...


PS: I thought I'd post something happy after all my whining.
PPS: I thought only dandelions had seeds airplanes like this.

2014/09/28

I've been told to mind my ?$%&-ing language by a ?$%&-ing machine!

A bit dischuffed at the non performance of my Mastercard in trying to pay a legitimate bill of a legitimate company I protested to the bank. They had changed me from Visa to Mastercard. "It's better" they said. Like the gullible fool I am, I signed.



I wanted to pay the bill. I wanted the service the company was offering. It was a Saturday, so no hope in getting a real reply till Monday, but I thought I'd see what the automated system  would do.



I had to type in my question to a fake person called "Paolo", who turned out to be as stupid as Microsoft's "Clippy" (but much more easily offended).





When Paolo did not understand my question (and his response was clearly from a non human, i.e. an automatic program) I asked him, in Italian, how stupid he was. He replied that I needed to reply to him more politely:






A ?$%&ing machine is telling me how to behave when I talk to it! I lost my rag then. I'd just tried four times to get into the Mastercard help system, but again a ?$%&ing machine could not understand my key presses for my card number (three times) or finally my date of birth (once). Well sod me, the machines ?$%&-up then tell me to behave myself!



The idiot programmer, or, more likely the programmer's idiot boss, made Paolo tell me off when it sees bad words (like "stupid"). Had "Paolo" simply said: "Sorry I don't understand, please call a real person on Monday" I'd have been satisfied.



And WTF, Paolo doesn't even shave before coming to work! Look under his nose and on his chin:





2014/09/19

How To Learn A Language

Step 1) Go and live in the country for at least 3 months. 2 years is better.
Step 2) Find light funny books to read in the language you are trying to learn.

When I went to live in Japan a young woman (a young woman no longer, alas) there recommended (in English) that I read (in Japanese) Patariro! She was right. It got me straight away. It's a manga, supposedly for children, but I noticed many adults reading Patariro! comics on the trains. The fact that it is "for children" made it easier for foreigners. The text was written in adult Japanese, with the pronounciation above it or to the side of the complex kanji characters. So children (and as a side effect foreigners studying Japanese) would understand it too:


When I came to Italy I thought I'd do the same thing. I needed to find a comic that the natives like. Unfortunately I found "Diabolik!" And it is. The plots are plodding and samey, the drawings are stolid and static. Look at this car racing along a road:


Now look at this Patariro getting a bit dischuffed:



Luckily my Italian studies were saved by Carlo Manzoni. A young woman (a young woman no longer, alas) recommended these two books:




"I'll break your nose baby!" and "I'll give you one black eye and another blue." hooked me in Italian just like Patariro had hooked me in Japanese. They are funny/surreal cop stories. I'd like to buy them again, but they're out of print.



How Microscopy Expanded And Informed Imagination

Like most people I like the smell of mint, and when I saw the lovely purple flowers of mint I thought I'd, yes, look at them under my USB microscope.





And they are beautiful, but I did not realise that seeing the pollen at the end of the stamen...





...would expand my informed imagination a day later. Because the next time I saw the mint flowers on the balcony even though I could not see the pollen (my eyesight is not great) the image from the microscope jumped into my mind.



I suppose that many enthusiasts and experts in all fields have this experience, but I'd never felt it so much as I did with the mint flowers and their pollen grains.