Friday, 31 December 2010

True lasting legacy

Christmas has come and gone like a hurricane: weeks of worry and preparation, the pantry stocked to the brim with provisions, then the day itself passes in a whirlwind, leaving the house strewn with detritus in its wake. Now the storm has passed it is time to look back at 2010.

In 2010 I learnt to crochet, use a soldering iron, hang doors, rewire light fittings, operate a sewing machine, and propagate succulents. And there’s more. I know there is. I’m sure there is.

I managed to return to work, finally judged fit by the company doctor. Throughout the year I’ve seen various consultants with diverse maladies, though thankfully nothing has required major medical intervention.

The general election inspired me to paint, an odd muse perhaps, but my target was the basement not a canvas. I listened to the journalists covering the election results as I covered the walls with paint. Whatever indignities this coalition of convenience may inflict, I suspect my three freshly painted basement rooms will be their true lasting legacy.

I spent many hours outdoors: mowing, planting and pruning. The garden supplied a harvest of black and redcurrants to supplement the potatoes, carrots and onions I grew. A bumper crop of apples was allowed to fall and provide sustenance for insects and birds.

A tree surgeon worked his magic to bring more light into the garden, a chimney sweep swept the chimneys, and a roofer fixed my leaky roof. The central heating system needed TLC on several occasions, usually coinciding with arctic weather.

The neighbours got planning permission for a bizarre extension, but to my great relief they seem in no hurry to build it.

My holidays this year have been taken in sunny Leeds, with the exception of a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon in the spring with my friend Claire, and to Amsterdam in the autumn with my brother. I’m glad I stayed close to home - it has been a bad year for vacationers: Eyjafjallaj√∂kull closed down airspace, strikes grounded planes and snow closed airports.

As years go 2010 followed the usual conventions in time honoured fashion with days getting longer then shorter, warmer then colder, et cetera then so forth, yada yada yada. It's funny how each and every year we are surprised by the turning of the seasons. You'd think after the first dozen years we'd get the hang of it.

From an icy beginning to an icy end, farewell 2010.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The whole truth

My dilapidated home has acquired a replacement fire surround for the living room. The current incumbent is neither original to the house nor overly imbued with charm. I’ve been trawling Ebay for a replacement for some months, and happily bagged a bargain just before Christmas.

I brushed up on my “white van man” driving skills yesterday with a 230 mile round trip via Coventry to collect the fire surround. The most difficult thing to get used to in a van is having no rear view mirror. It feels like the whole rear of the van is one big blind spot. Suddenly the wing mirrors become all important, every lane change a leap of faith that these mirrors show the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Now I have this beautiful old edwardian oak fire surround my plans for renovating the front room are brewing.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010


Walking the dogs twice a day, rain or shine.
Sunday mornings teaching dog obedience classes.
Club secretary, then chairman.
Aerobics at the gym.
Evening classes learning Greek.
From non-swimmer to qualified lifeguard via classes at the pool.
Straight talking.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Crank the orrery on

The eclipsed moon hangs ghostly pink in the sky, strange and seemingly transported from the cover of an old science fiction book to hang above our heads.

On the opposite horizon, glorious dawn colours announce the approaching sun. It is these orange and red sunbeams that light the setting moon, our atmosphere bending the longer red wavelengths round the earth.

Orbital mechanics crank the orrery on to its next position, and we whiz along.

Sun risen, moon set.

Shortest day begun.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Until I shed my coat

I’ve been out in my Fiesta sleigh today, delivering presents, just like Santa will in a few days. Afterwards I called in to see the folks, enjoyed a laugh, a bowl of homemade chicken soup and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. 

Driving home after dark through freezing fog, I wondered whether all would be white come the morning. Will the fog crystalize in the night? Will I wake to an ice sculpted world?

Arriving home the house felt warm until I shed my coat, and then the chill was apparent. The radiators cold, the boiler dark and silent. Despite desperate resuscitation attempts, I fear the boiler’s life has fled. 

All doors and curtains are closed against the cold. It's 14.5°C in the house, I can see the mercury falling. 

Jack Frost may get his claws inside my home before this night is out.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Accelerate back to earth

Our concept of reality is determined by our senses. Through our eyes we perceive that the universe consists of objects that we can interact with, confirmed by our sense of touch registering pressure when we make contact with another object.

We have a construct of time because the input from our senses varies, and we can recollect the differences. As each combination of sensory input is never repeated precisely we determine that, as objects can move in relation to one another, so too does time “travel”, though only it would seem in one direction, and not in the same three dimensions we register physical objects moving in.

We recognise that there other forces at work based on observing how objects move in relation to one another. We deduce gravity as a force that attracts objects to one another. An object forced up and away from the planet will gradually slow in its ascent, and then accelerate back to earth.

We observe that some objects have a gravity like effect on a limited subset of other objects, and depending on alignment of the two objects, the vector of the force varies. One such effect we label magnetism.

We have the idea of light because in its presence our eyes can detect objects, but in its absence, while we see nothing, touch confirms the objects continue to persist in the darkness. Our eyes perceive of colour and brightness so we determine there are many variations of “light” and its strength fades with distance. We realise light is only emitted by some of the things we see, and bounces off other objects, being altered in colour and direction depending on what it hits.

We feel variations in pressure even when nothing appears to register with our eyes. From this our consciousness determines that our eyes do not register everything. For instance we can’t see air with our eyes, though we can feel it ebb and flow around us as in the shape of breezes and wind. Our ears register movement of air created by the vibrations of objects around us.

Our recollection of sensory input gives us the ability to gather data on the world about us, and we have an ability to develop theories to explain the myriad of interactions, and therefore predict future states.

In essence our mental model of the universe is shaped by the senses we have available to us, and confirmed by our ability to successfully predict changes.

But what if our senses do not register everything? There would, of course, be gaps and inconsistences in our mental predictive model.

With aids constructed to help us measure interactions with great accuracy and the use of a system we created called mathematics, we do find flaws in our concepts. Light sometimes behaves in a similar way to a wave on water, yet in other circumstances its interaction can better be described by considering it to be an object or particle. The fields of astrophysics, quantum physics, and particle physics are all rife with contradictions and effects we cannot explain adequately.

How else might our theories have evolved if we had different senses than sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste?