On the connectedness of ideas

30 09 2012

There’s a theory that every person on the planet is “connected” via no more than 6 degrees of separation. i.e you know someone that knows someone that… well, you get the idea.

Ideas are the same. One idea leads to another, that in turn leads to another, and you end up pretty well at any idea you like. Tell me you’ve surfed the web and not had that demonstrated in spades. Or shovels. Or diamonds if you prefer card suits to garden implements. Or perhaps trowels if you’re only a small time surfer. See? We’re ever so good at grabbing connections out of the air and linking things. Edward de Bono wrote a whole book on it: Lateral Thinking.

Richard Dawkins had the concept of a “meme” – an idea that follows the evolutionary concepts laid down by Darwin. Good memes grow and prosper spawning better and better memes, lesser ones are driven out of the meme pool and shrivel up into the idea fossil record. Hm… I buy it in large part, but there are some really, really bad ideas out there that look pretty strong to me. But let’s leave politics and religion out of this post, shall we?

So how did I get here? Well – I was following up, reading blogs of those who have honoured me with following this quite irrelevant Quieter Elephant. In a comment to one recent posting, I read this unassuming line:

We only accept the love we feel we deserve.

It stopped my eyeballs in their metaphorical tracks, and I wasn’t sure why. Eventually I realised it was because it reminded me of another gem I’d heard in person.

We teach other people how to treat us.

Quite a powerful idea really. That we are in control of how other people behave towards us. The same is true of the earlier quote. That we are in control of how well we feel loved. Others may be gushing warm and fuzzies all over us, and we may simply be not recognising it because we don’t feel we deserve that love. Or perhaps that type of love. So I looked up the phrase (it seemed like it might have been a quote). It turns out that it is used in the book The Perks of Being a wallflower which is now a film, I believe. This was wry smile inducing because this book was suggested to me by the person who proposed the second thought – that we teach others how to treat us.

And then a song came into my head. A Mother Mother song from their new album The Sticks: Love it Dissipates. I’ve had the album on constant loop in my car since it was published a couple of weeks ago.

This song begins with the lines: “If you were a country, I’d be your flag”. Because Mother Mother are a bit quirky, the song continues a little non-standardly (I’m on a roll making up new words tonight! If Shakespeare can do it, why can’t I? Don’t answer that MM) on the imagery front, but still in the same vein: “If you were a smoke, I’d be your drag”.

By the end of the song though, we’re on “Oh baby, if you were a convict, I’d be your cell” and “If you were a housewife, I’d be your living hell”

We finish the song with the thought that “I mean what I say; When I say; Love it dissipates”, leaving us with the thought that love that was once close and mutual can become torture for at least one of the people involved.

Hm. Well, perhaps. But so can many things. Unless we value them enough to work at keeping them. I think that’s the crux – we take a lot of things we value for granted, and stop TRYING.

If we learn to value ourselves, we can more easily come to feel we deserve all the love that is offered. And that in turn can allow us to teach others to love us all the more.

There – that was a load of late-night bollocks wasn’t it? Thoughts anyone?

What Do You Expect?

30 09 2012

I was sent this video this evening.

It made me cry I was so proud to be even a small part of this.

Yeah, it’s set in London’s inner city, but it could be any city in almost every country on the planet.

What did you do today?


A gang of inner-city youths journey to the city limits in search of…..?

Starwarigami – Advanced Star Wars Origami. Original designs by Martin Hunt

30 09 2012

There are some very very clever people in the world.

There are some very idiosyncratic people in the world.

Sometimes they’re the same person.

Meet Martin Hunt a Maths graduate and software engineer (do I hear sighs of “figures”?) from the UK.

His niche in life is making origami models of the various Star Wars objects we all (well some of us) know and love.

Check out his awesome web site Starwarigami.

Starwarigami – Advanced Star Wars Origami. Original designs by Martin Hunt.

Starwarigami - Advanced Star Wars Origami. Original designs by Martin Hunt

R2-D2: Starwarigami – Advanced Star Wars Origami. Original designs by Martin Hunt

And who are you again?

29 09 2012

[Heavy Introspection Warning – lower humour quotient than usual. You have been warned!]

At first sight, the recent studies by Canadian scientists that male DNA can persist in female brains seems to be rich pickings for jokes of the “get out of my head”, “you’re always on my mind” kind.

Vancouver Sun – Male DNA found for first time in female brains.

There are a few theoretical ways a woman can absorb male DNA – from a male child, a male twin, even potentially an older male sibling via their mother’s womb (It’s rarely disputed that males are bad at clearing up after themselves – maybe it starts pre-birth!). The study also hints at a potential link to Alzheimer’s disease resistance.

But the interesting thing for me is the implications of “self”. Now I’ve never studied biology, psychology, or as the old BT advert with Maureen Lipman would say: any other “ology”. But even I know that we actually exist in what we blithely refer to as our mind – basically the software running in our brain. Now what this study shows is that the hardware itself – the brain – can have elements in it that are not even originally from our own body. Not just chemical, like a drug say, which is affecting how our own brain is functioning. No this is actually bits from ANOTHER body.  The study was limited, in that it was looking for male DNA in women because that was easier to spot than the DNA of their own daughter, but it’s a profound piece of data. This is different to our DNA being the result of our parents’ DNA being diced and spliced. This is separate DNA alongside that recipe we used to think of as “me”.

Not only can we change through the influence of new experiences, emotions and “data” for our mind, but perhaps the very hardware we’re running on is changing underneath us. Influencing the way we process that information.

This leads me to another discussion I recently had. One I’ve had a few times actually, about what we really are. I have this total fear of waking up completely paralysed and unable to communicate in any way. Being totally conscious and being able to sense and process my surroundings, but in no way being able to communicate with it. It frightens me. Mainly I think because I measure my worth as somehow being how I relate to other people. The implication therefore is that without being able to contribute my own thoughts, I become worthless, despite being totally cognisant and able to still generate novel thought and ideas. Would there be someone “out there”, outside my mind that would still value me? Somehow still be able to connect with me. Would I want to continue with no way of expressing myself to others? Yes – my mind has some dark little places in it. I rarely open those doors, but it’s dangerous to let things go too long without facing them.

So then if we take a less extreme situation and talk about mind-changing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, or even just getting old generally, we see the situation where one is still interacting with the world, but perhaps in a different way to what you used to. So are you still, well, you? Arguably a different you (not meaning to prescribe any relative value here – just a different you). It’s easier for someone who never knew the previous you to accept you as you are now, but this can be a really tough transition for family and friends that have seen the differences and can contrast them and inherently place a judgement of better/worse versions.

And this makes me wonder why. Every birthday marks off another year lived. Survived. Trains, cars and rock falls avoided. But also another year of experiences absorbed and processed. These experiences change us. We may see new perspectives, feel different emotions. Many things. Perhaps we know of people who didn’t survive that year, or just barely – that impacts us too. So are we tangibly different people? If so, it’s not just an annual occurrence. We change by the day, hour, second.

And in the end, does it matter?

I think so. I think we should spend a little while every now and then and just look around. Smile at a stranger. There is only now. In a moment you’ll be a different person.

To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee: Now THAT’s a 3D printer!

28 09 2012

This bad boy can “print” objects as large as 7′ x 7′ x 11′ out of corn-based plastic. Whilst there are no immediate plans to commercialize the technology behind it, the Dutch architecture firm DUS currently has the printer open for use by the public four days a week in Amsterdam. Scratch the wooden keyboard – I want one of THESE for my birthday!

World’s Largest 3D Printer Opens To Public | Earthtechling.

It seems Americans are starting to chat up gingers more and more…

28 09 2012

So according to the venerable Aunty Beeb, British terms are invading common American English usage just as much as English English is being influenced the other way! Darwinism at work?  😉

BBC News – Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English.

Even President Obama has used “the long game” – which comes from the game of whist.

The article has some interesting little graphs of how terms like “ginger” for a red-head, “chat up” for hit on and “sell-by date” for expiration have steadily made headway into the American usage.

Interesting stuff!

Check out fellow blogger Ben Yagoda‘s contribution at Not One-Off Britishisms

Ska or Betelgeuse?

26 09 2012

So I came by a new pair of socks the other day.

I love socks.

Not just any old socks though. No – I prefer loud, retina-scorching designs and colours. (Probably comes from eating too much spicy food – dulled my senses.) This has a downside though. North America tends to prefer white, black or grey socks for men. Sorry – “gray” socks. Even spelling it wrong can’t make it interesting.

Thankfully there is a more recent trend to change things up a little and I have actually seen a few more stripes and patterns appearing. Mainly in the heal/toe area where it’s not actually seen, but it is a start, and we should give credit where it’s due. So I was quite pleased with these locally sourced socks. Along with my particular choice of ties (i.e. that I even have them), my socks often garner attention, and these were no different. “A little Beetlejuice” was one comment. I thought more Ska/2-tone myself – what do you reckon?

Sorry for the washed out colours in the BlackBerry photo. They’re actually a rather fetching lime green, in between the black.


23 09 2012

I don’t consider myself a gambler, though I obviously am, simply because I am a human being. I gamble on not choking every time I eat something. I gamble with my social standing with every new relationship I form or let slide. Few things in life are absolutely certain (especially those relationships!!) – except of course that it will end one day.

As a kid, I took an optional class in statistics when I was about 15. Can’t say I remember much about the point of standard deviation and all that, but I do remember a few principles. One was the effect of sheer volume of numbers on the result; another the human trait of taking recent history and extrapolating it unreasonably.

The numbers thing had two neat examples. One was the origin of why Indians offer Paal Paysam (rice pud!) to visiting pilgrims. Basically it was an illustration that starting with a single grain of rice on one square of a chess board, and doubling it on each subsequent square, you finished the last (64th) square requiring enough rice to cover the whole of India with a metre depth of rice!

The other example was challenging someone that you can identify any word they can find in a dictionary with only 20 questions. Find a good thick dictionary for someone to look in and select a word for you to find. Take back the dictionary, open it roughly in the middle, identify a word and ask whether their word is alphabetically higher or lower. Instantly, you have discarded half of the words in the dictionary from your search. Split the remaining pages, repeat the question, and you are already down to 1/4 of the recorded words with only 2 questions gone! Twenty questions allows you to “binary split” and identify any individual word in this way, as long as the dictionary has less than a million words or so (2 to the power 20). Plenty of leeway for even a chunky Oxford English Dictionary.

“Was there a point to all this?”, you ask. You didn’t? Oh, I’m sorry – you must be a regular reader then, comfortable in the point being gradually made apparent. This particular point was that unreasonable things are possible with enough numbers.

The second recollection was about our sense of “reasonable”. If I ask you to pick heads or tails as I flip a coin, you’d be reasonably comfortable in picking either, I think. Over say 6 or 10 flips you are ALMOST certain to have seen both heads and tails appear with around similar frequency. Assuming “a fair flip” and an honest minting, then over an infinite number of flips, the statistical average will tend to exactly 50% of both heads and tails, but we’ll already be reasonably comfortable with that within much fewer. It’s “reasonable”. But, alas, we are human. WE are not reasonable. We have short memories and judge things on a human timescale and size. Like global warming – we’re bleating on about global warming, and totally ignoring the fact that humans came into being at an atypical moment in the planet’s temperature cycle. The scale is too big for most of us to grasp.

We struggle with big numbers – even those of us who are good at maths. So, if something is very unlikely – say 1 in 7,000,000,000 we tend to say “well, it’s almost zero – let’s ignore it!” That would be a shame though – that’s how likely you are to be one of the current human inhabitants of earth. Suddenly feel a bit more likely?

15-25% don’t seem like GREAT odds, but that’s the odds of getting pregnant (assuming you’re trying to!) each month, according to babymed.com. I bet you’re glad your parents weren’t hung up on stats!

This logic of “very very small is not the same as zero” is what leads some to be confident that there’s life on other planets: NEAR zero chance of ET being on any given planet… but near infinite planets, so likelihood is actually pretty high…

So I put my name into a free draw. Sure the odds of winning can be vanishingly small… but not actually zero! It’s way easier to cope with the large numbers if there’s no cost involved of course, and I regularly put my name in the hat with the local Arts paper, The Georgia Straight. Last week, I got a call to tell me I’d won. It took me a couple of attempts to fully understand the concept of winning from the delightful lady who was trying to tell me, because despite the regular entries, I had never ACTUALLY expected to win anything!

And so it was that I came to be taking Mrs Elephant to the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday night. It was a dance presentation as part of the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, and co-sponsored by The Georgia Straight. I delighted in wearing my favourite Converse and skinny jeans amongst the collars and ties and fancy frocks.  As I waited in the “will call” queue to collect my free tickets, a perfumed, petit latin gentleman oiled past everyone to the other ticket booth and said “I’m on the guest list – can I have my tickets?”. I couldn’t help but smirk as he was politely but firmly asked to join the end of the queue I was in. Art – the great social leveller! One other small, well scented middle-aged chap had what appeared to be a length of upholstery fabric over his shoulder. He spoke with a most affected French accent and when joined by his female acolyte, with a similar piece, I realised it was actually a cashmere scarf, and he was most definitely, quite unequivocally not her sexual partner. ‘Nuff said.

So,  when my turn came to get my tickets from the booth, I gave my name, and a quick search of the envelopes found no result. I felt a little disheartened as I was actually quite looking forward to being the odd one out in such a pretentious gathering. “For the Flamenco?” asked the lady with a quizzical expression, obviously not believing that “someone of my type” could possibly be in the right place. I offered that I’d won them with Georgia Straight, and voila, there they were on the small and discrete VIP pile. Presumably the other tickets were for smaller, swarthier, more aromatic gentlemen in sharp suits and pointy shoes. Of which there were many – typically accompanied by what I can only describe as stunningly dressed women.

So – we were in. We joined the short line at the inner door and the prior couple were dispatched unceremoniously in the direction of their seats by the middle-aged usher. I handed her our tickets and said “good evening, how are you today?” Her demeanour changed in a flash, and with a beaming smile she said all was well, and politely pointed us to our seats telling us they were amongst the best in the house, and hoping we enjoyed the show.

Such a powerful thing, I’ve always felt: simply acknowledging another human being.

We quickly found our seats, which did indeed seem to be in the “really quite good” category. Row 3, aisle. I like aisle seats. Ever since I was told how hard it is to get off a burning plane if you’re stuck behind an overweight person.

Flamenco Rosario: Artistic director Rosario Ancer

The lights went down and proceedings began with some announcements from yet another diminutive bloke. Plainly Flamenco followers are typically on the short side. And then we were off…

The opening act was by “Flamenco Rosario” – which is a registered charity promoting Flamenco in BC, with artistic director Rosario Ancer.

Going by the title “La Monarca, The Monarch and the Butterfly Effect (Excerpts)”, it was influenced by the Monarch Butterfly, and had a video backdrop of the Monarch’s caterpillar on a leaf and the clouds of gathered Monarchs. These butterflies fly in great clouds in Rosario’s native Mexico.

Wikipedia: Monarch butterflies

Now, I had no preconceptions really. Perhaps of red swishing frocks and castanets. Bright red lipstick and Spanish guitars. Frilly shirts and… OK, OK, I had LOTS of preconceptions.

As the lights went up, we were met by what looked like a giant cocoon, which slowly became apparent as the layered underskirts of Rosario’s dress, as she revealed herself from behind them, sat on a box. She was barefoot, and I was struck with her graceful movements – she was neither young nor typically “dancer anorexic”. She had grace and style in bucketloads though, and as the pieces went on she was joined by husband and Musical Director Victor Kolstee on the guitar, and Momi de Cadiz doing vocals.

In a heartbeat the set was over, with lots of what I (being British-born) considered rude people in the audience yelling out “¡Olé!” at various points, and a good 30 minutes had actually passed. It turns out it’s traditional to yell at the dancer to encourage them. (I wonder if it works at performances of Swan Lake…). As the lights came up, I was left mulling over the experience. Not what I’d expected, if indeed that was anything particular. It was new, and modern, but with Flamenco style moves. I think I quite enjoyed it!

After the break came the real show: Angeles Gabaldón performing “Del Quivir”. I actually found a recording of a previous performance here for those that might be interested. I recommend the third piece particularly. Read on to see why.

Angeles Gabaldón

A little better prepared this time, I was not so shocked when the lights came up to see the star of the show lying on the ground. “Oh dear – she suffers from narcolepsy” left my mouth before I could stop it, and Mrs. Elephant administered an embarrassed elbow jab. Things got going pretty quickly and again, Flamenco style dancing was melded with other styles in this piece based on water and flow. Again, great elegance and style in the performance from this Spanish dancer. The third piece had her coming on stage with dripping wet hair, and the soundtrack was actually various water sounds rather than music. In time to the “natural music” she wrung imaginary water from her long dress, shook real water from her wet hair, and generally made a wonderful interpretation of the fluidity and power of water.

To use a phrase I heard often in the pub last Friday: “I was blown away”. Follow the link above to see a video of the dance.

One of the things that struck me with the dance style is the authority with which the women use the medium. There would be long flowing sequences than a very abrupt stop with a pose and expression akin to “Yeah?! And what you gonna do about it then?!” Power and grace all in one.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening. Worth every penny. 🙂

Thank-you Georgia Straight! I appreciated the opportunity to sample something I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Printing Evolves: An Inkjet for Living Tissue – WSJ.com

20 09 2012


Another case of “just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD”!

Printing Evolves: An Inkjet for Living Tissue – WSJ.com.

I know it’s not my birthday yet, but…

19 09 2012

So if you’ve got €125 burning a hole in your pocket and you’re feeling like making an elephant very happy, I have JUST the thing for you…

Orée Board Maple | Orée

It reminds me of that film with Robin Williams – The Final Cut. Interesting story idea, and I just loved the wooden hi-tech. Such sumptuous styling. Not to be mixed up with the awesome album by Pink Floyd, with its Falklands-inspired anti-war songs.