Evolution and competing for life

19 01 2015

So you may recall I was given a FitBit for Chrimbo.

Quite a discrete little thing – not much bigger than my handmade leather (and EVER so masculine) bracelet. It faithfully logs my every step and reports on my restless sleep each night. All it asks is that I recharge it every now and then. It’s even thoughtful enough to email me when it’s time to perform that little task.

I went for a swift bevvie on Friday with a couple of old workmates. Old as in “not current” – they’re both substantially younger than me. Anyway, one of these gents let slip that he too had recently bought a FitBit, though his was a more sophisticated one that also counts stair flights climbed, heart-rate etc.

Atrial Fibrillation aside, I tend to see heart-rate as a pretty digital thing: “on” or “off”. Off is not generally considered a good thing and can lead to permanent lack of income and a loss of social status. “On” in my case can be anything from 70 or so bpm when at rest to off the chart when it’s in fibrillation. Not a lot of point paying extra to measure that, then!

Anyway yesterday I received a curious email suggesting I become his friend on the FitBit site. This seemed harmless enough, and as I’ve recently given up FaceBook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter etc, I figured I’d best say yes so he doesn’t think I’m spurning him. What I was too dim to realise of course is that this is basically an invitation to be on a scoreboard with his daily FitBit data being compared to my own.

The theory it seems is that a little competition will egg all parties concerned to try a little harder. This naturally works best with men and women of a particular mental slant – viz: egocentric. I’m hoping Darwin was only partially right. I have no issue at all with the survival of the fittest. I’m just hoping that coming second doesn’t mean an instant relegation to the land of the dead!

So this evening I went to the gym with my son (number 3 child). Years ago I bought a “10 entry” pass for the Surrey area leisure centres. I was down to the last one or two, so I bought another 10 entries (it gives you a discounted price). But there was a snag. It seems the original 10 units were not time limited (indeed – I look very young and slim in the photo), but the new block of 10 units runs out in 2 years. What?! That’s five gym visits a year! That’s positively obsessive behaviour that is! I’m just relieved my Yorkshire genes were held at bay and I didn’t go for the slightly cheaper per unit 20 entry pack. That would be almost one visit a month! My gods, I might actually get fit if I went that often. Are they mad?!

Joking aside, I find it very calming to put on my iPod and zone out with my private thoughts whilst pounding away on the elliptical trainer. I find myself feeling a little superior when people come and go on the machines around me, demonstrating as much staying power as a kitten with a ball of string. The woman on the machine next to me was barely at walking speed, was on her phone most of the time, and didn’t even break into a sweat. I on the other hand needed to wade to shore after my session, there was so much moisture exuded.

I have eclectic music tastes and a large capacity iPod on shuffle. It’s always something of a mystery then what my fitness playlist will be on any specific occasion. Usually though one particular song stands out. For last night’s run, it was Arctic Monkey’s “Suck it and see”.

Your kiss it could put creases in the rain

You’re rarer than a can of Dandelion and Burdock

Now that, dear reader is poetry. Though possibly only if you know what Dandelion and Burdock is.

Tonight’s standout song was Ani Difranco’s “As Is”. A very dear friend alerted me to this song years ago, and I love the sentiment in the lyrics.

Cause I’ve got
No illusions about you
And guess what?
I never did
And when I say
When I say I’ll take it
I mean,
I mean as is

So, whatever the long term results of this accidental competition I seem to have entered are, at least I will continue to be reacquainted with some great poetry set to music.

Now, if you’ll excuse me dear reader, I have a dog to walk (to get my FitBit steps in for the day ;o) ). Good job I have a dog, or I’d be forced to steal one for the purpose…

Orderliness, De Morgan, Texas and Common Sense

24 02 2013

OK, so if this is your first foray into Quieter Elephant territory, you might want to politely smile, avoid eye contact and slowly back out – being careful not to make any sudden movements or trip over your laces, or that sleeping aardvark you didn’t notice on the way in. Once you’re safely around the corner, run. Don’t look back, just keep going – especially if you hear the familiar sound of a shopping bag full of dragon fruit. (Because let’s face it –  if it’s familiar, you’re just weird, and even we have limits!)

This is going to be one of those tortured, frayed, twisted postings. You’ve been warned. Perhaps come back when the rainbows and unicorns are here. (You’ll see the full-spectrum manure on the street).

Source: Instructables: Unicorn poop

I’ve got a few things on my mind and a keyboard in front of me. Again – you have been warned.

They say dreaming is the mind’s mechanism to clear things out a bit. Do the Spring cleaning, as it were. The theory goes that while you’re sleeping, the hind mind goes to work and does a bit of cross-indexing in the old noggin. I guess that means your hind mind might be one of those sultry librarians with unnecessary glasses, a contrived expression of demurity, and the ability to do the Times crossword in an infeasibly short time.

Called Eric.

Oh I’m sorry – were you filling your mind’s eye with feminine wiles and breathy vixens? My bad. Carry on… we’ll just slowly continue until you catch us up.

Anyway, while we sleep our brain is busy using the otherwise spare processing power sorting, sifting, and generally making future retrievals more efficient by looking for connections and similarities – out-googling Google, as it were. According to Scientific American, some nifty evolutionary architecture gives the average human brain about 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes) of storage. “For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows” it goes on. According to WorldWideWebSize.com there are around 50 billion webpages in the web at the moment, just for comparison.

OK, so interesting though that rat hole might have been to some – I was actually just trying to say that my mind has been feeling particularly in need of a good rinsing of late. A mental enema you might say.

If you were particularly odd.

Which those frequenting these pages are wont to be!

Writing seems to work in my case, so I beg your indulgence and ask you to strap in, sit back and join me on this cathartic (to me at least) ride into Ged knows where. (Ged was a colleague in my very first job. A very smart Liverpudlian with an unfortunate – though at the time fashionable – haircut not unreminiscent of Phil Oakey of Human League).

Human League’s Phil Oakey Source: Anna Greenwood – fellow WordPresser

So anyway, to help give us a little more focus, I want to concentrate on three things – the book I’m reading at the moment, a casual conversation I had with a most excellent friend and a news article I recently commented on. In no particular order. Actually, particularly in no order – or more likely still: in all orders at the same time.

I recently completed a particularly tough read – it was Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. It was barely worth the pain. I did learn some stuff… it was just a long slog. If you’ve followed the hyperlink and read the Wikipedia explanation of Black Swans… don’t bother buying the book. You’ve already read the nub of it. The rest of the book is lots of unnecessarily long words, pokes at the French (which though I usually applaud in the general case, cease to be funny when used with meanness), and self-congratulatory waffle.

To try and mix up my reading material I usually oscillate between fiction and non-fiction. A bit like cleaning the palette between courses of a meal, I suppose. So my current read is Snuff by the indomitable Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett. Source – Wikipedia.org

He is now allegedly suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which I have to admit is not in the slightest noticeable in his recent writing. It remains full of excellent wit and observation of the peculiarities of the human condition – as seen through very English eyes.

My favourite observation so far is when one character describes a woman as having a face like a bulldog sucking vinegar off a thistle. Now come on – tell me that doesn’t conjure up an image!

The main character, one Sam Vimes is a policeman to his very core. He instinctively knows right from wrong… as well as lawful from unlawful. Occasionally they even line up. This humorous murder mystery, set in the Discworld genius of Pratchett, kept tugging at my memories of the story I read about the Texan law enforcers shooting illegal immigrants from a helicopter. I’m quite sure it was a lawful act. But was it “right”?

I was discussing the matter with a retired Vancouver policeman on Saturday. He was explaining that in the US (thankfully not in Canada), merely fleeing an attempted arrest was a felony, and felons could be brought down with deadly force. So a not-known-to-be-definitely-armed person running AWAY from an armed officer, and therefore placing him or her in no direct danger could quite legally be shot dead, it seems. Now this was only my understanding from the conversation I had… but it certainly agrees with plenty of exciting cop’n’robbers TV show I’ve watched. In contrast I recently watched some vintage “Sweeney” where London’s Flying Squad of the 70’s were occasionally forced to let fleeing criminals get away, despite both the criminals and the police being armed (they’re a special squad who are unusual in that they are regularly armed), rather than fire their weapons.

Now this gave me a bit of a sleepless night. Not, as you might assume because of some liberal do-gooder instinct (though I admit that the whole concept of officers of the law being armed as a matter of course with guns does not sit comfortably). No – what kept me awake was a matter of logic.

We in the West – and indeed many other nations in more far flung locales with infinitely more interesting cuisine – have a thing called “due process“. For most of us, this only relates to getting a polite call from the local library about books that they would be awfully grateful to see back on their shelf. If it’s not too much trouble. They’re past due, and this is the process.

Actually, though due process (intended to balance the law of the land and the rights of the individual) originated with the Magna Carta in 1215, the process of law in the UK no longer uses it in its strict form (though has equivalent balances).

To be fair, it’s actually the presumption of innocence that is my real point. As quoted from Wikipedia: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (the burden of proof lies with who declares, not who denies), is the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. The Romans document this going back to the 2nd Century. Been around a while, you might say.

And that’s what got my logic juices flowing. Politics and prejudices aside – the US does have a process of law not too far distant from the UK, Canada, and pretty well most of the democratic world (and even some of the undemocratic bits too!) So here it was… my unease.

If someone is presumed innocent until proven in a court of law to be otherwise, they can’t yet be technically guilty at the time they are evading capture by the long arm of the law (and an assault rifle in the hands of a helicopter-riding official has a pretty long reach these days!) So how can it be justified to shoot them dead for running away? Sure, they might actually be guilty… but it’s not yet proven, so we are to presume them innocent.

To be clear – I’m only struggling with the cases where the would-be arresting officer is not in any danger from the fleeing presumed-criminal.

On what grounds can it ever be right as opposed to legal to shoot a fleeing person who is not currently presenting a danger to either the officers or others? The shooter is no longer merely protecting the rule of law, but meting out judgement and punishment based only on their own un-proven “evidence”. It has not been tested in the court of law by a jury of the accused’s peers. It’s a paradox of logic. You are trying to apprehend them so their guilt can be tested and proven in a court of law. At such time as that becomes difficult due to their attempted escape, the whole process is discarded, guilt is assumed (though the law presumes them innocent as guilt is not proven in a court of law!), instantly judged and potentially terminal punishment carried out.

And De Morgan? Well, back in the early 1800’s the British mathematician Augustus De Morgan put forward a theorem:

\overline{A \cdot B} \equiv \overline {A} + \overline {B}

\overline{A + B} \equiv \overline {A} \cdot \overline {B}

It was one of the first things I got taught in Computer Science back in the early 80’s. (1980’s, I should clarify, perhaps! 🙂 ) It’s a core part of understanding binary logic… computing at its foundation.

A casual discussion with a more recently educated “Computer Scientist” illustrated that it is no longer taught (at least not well enough to last beyond an exam!  🙂 )

In context?

Well De Morgan’s theorem would give us:

If it’s “not right and legal”, it’s the same as it’s “not right or not legal”.


If it’s “not right or legal”, it’s the same as it’s “not right and it’s not legal”.

Apart from the rule itself, De Morgan taught me to make damned sure I used lots of brackets when I was writing software, to ensure the NOT went with the right clauses!

Just to close – with the demise of Amazon Reads in LinkedIn, I have moved over to goodreads.com (and I commend it to you.) It’s got a neat little quotation search engine, where I reacquainted myself with Ambrose Bierce, who wrote in his famous Devil’s Dictionary the following definition: “Lawyer – One skilled in the circumvention of the law.”

Well – that’s a lot better. I can once more feel the currents of a breeze meeting no resistance as it flows unhindered from one aural orifice to the opposing one. I can start cluttering up my mind all over again.

If you made it this far – thank-you! You have the patience of a saint, and as Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys wrote:  If you’re gonna try and walk on water make sure you wear your comfortable shoes


Arctic Deepness

18 02 2013

Just doing some housekeeping on my not insubstantial music collection, and listening to The Arctic Monkeys‘ “Suck it and See” album. Such a classic turn of British phrase, don’t you think?

Not actually sure how it translates into Canadiania. “Let the chips fall where they may” perhaps?

It’s not actually in the slightest bit rude, despite what you might think. It just means the outcome is unknown  and the only way to find out, is to give it a go. The analogy is a boiled sweet of unknown flavour. The only way to determine it, is to suck it and see for yourself.

Anyway, there was one line in the title track which I thought was quite evocative, and thought I’d share:

Your kiss it could put creases in the rain

Well – I liked it. You can please yourself… 🙂

Wikipedia: Suck it and See (Single)

Lorenzo Duran and BAFTA awards

24 11 2012

Years ago I used to live in the UK and was an annual member of the National Trust. As a subscriber I got to visit all manner of Manor Houses (sorry – couldn’t help myself). Amongst them was Snowshill Manor – about which I wrote in an earlier post. (If you’re interested, I’ll leave that as an exercise in googling.) One of the bewildering collections there was a small group of scrimshaw carvings by sailors and Napoleonic prisoners. In bone and ivory. Also some very fine oriental cricket cages. All were examples of very fine handiwork. Good ol’ StumbleUpon led me to this page today. A similar level of detail… but on leaves!! Lorenzo Duran – Designaside.com (It’s in Italian, but most browsers will translate it for you if you feel the need).

On a very tenuously connected thread…

When I was a Scout Leader in the UK, one of my young charges went by the name of Diarmid Scrimshaw. Still does actually – why change such a great name? It’s pronounced “Dermott” BTW, in case you were wondering. (I won’t share here what his rather cruel nickname at the time was – boys will be boys!) He was a bit smarter than the average, and I took a shine to him because he was a little bit out of phase with the rather bland world around him in Stony Stratford.

He used to ride a unicycle, just as a random example. To and from Scout meetings. While juggling live cats and chainsaws. OK, not actually, but the unicycle was real enough. I vaguely recall he was a dab hand with cards tricks too, and even more vaguely recall fire eating, but that might just be a false memory. A born performer, nevertheless.

I once bumped into him in a bar at the local cinema complex (he was still very much under drinking age) and he was dressed something like the Blues Brothers. It turned out he was there to play trombone with a band going by the name of The Blues Collective. I have a CD of their’s… not bad at all (“Hot Hits – Volume 1″… not at all pretentious!). Not unlike the sound of the band in The Commitments actually. Plainly this young man would go far. Here’s the opening track “Syrup” about a French prostitute.

Turns out he did go far after all. He just won a BAFTA award as the producer of “The Tyrannosaur“!! Read his interview here.

He just went up even further in my esteem as I learn on IMDB that he produced the Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo!

Guru: Diarmid Scrimshaw: now appearing on TWO wheels!

Diarmid on the right with Paddy Considine

“Love, baby, love… that’s the secret!” – Louis Armstrong

12 02 2012

I was at a fund-raiser for Scouts last night. One of those things that just have to be done…

Not often I feel young these days, but I probably had a good 10 years to go before I was at the average age present. That of course meant the music was a little “mature” for my tastes (not much chance of “Arctic Monkeys” or even “Coldplay”), and I got itchy to leave as soon as the dancing (which you’ll recall is purely a spectator event for me) began. I was however returned to momentary calmness when Louis Armstrong came on the playlist. He had such a unique voice, and a kindly manner.

Wikipedia: Louis Armstrong

Wikipedia: Louis Armstrong

This song was first released in 1968, and written as a positive antidote to the American mood around the Vietnam War (allegedly.) Tony Bennett turned it down and it was offered to Satchmo. Good move!

This YouTube version has a spoken introduction by Armstrong, using his other nickname of “Pops”.

Have a warmer, snugglier day…


I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

What Have the Tykes Ever Done For Us?

14 12 2011

OK, so firstly, if you’re not a Monty Python fan, you will probably be unaware of the reference. It’s from the iconic “Life of Brian” where the positive impact of the Roman Empire is being questioned. If you’re not familiar with it… or just want a good laugh, YouTube is the place to visit:

OK, so with that frame of reference you might now have moved on and be wondering what a Tyke is. Well it’s used to refer to the Yorkshire dialect, or people from Yorkshire. Keen on giving my one lost reader as many options to leave as they may like, I refer them to good ol’ Wikipedia: Yorkshire dialect – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

I particularly liked their assertion that “An April 2008 survey found that Yorkshire accents are now ranked above Received Pronunciation for inspiring confidence in the speaker.” With a citation no less! Of course, it was in the Guardian, so it’s not exactly “academic”!

So then I got to thinking… since we Yorkshire-born folk are so confidence-inspiring… what exactly have we done to improve the lot of our fellow-man? Quite a bit, it turns out!

Let’s start with Art and Literature (in fact – let’s go around the Trivial Pursuit cake slices in turn, shall we?): Well, we’ve got the entire Brontë family for a start! Coming from the lovely little town of Haworth, they brought us such greats as Wuthering Heights, named after the real farm of Top Withins. Then there’s David Hockney, an alumnus of my own school in Bradford. He’s into swimming pools and dachshunds, if I recall correctly.

Hockney: A Bigger Splash

Hockney: A Bigger Splash

Hockney: Dog Painting 17

Hockney: Dog Painting 17

Music? Well more recently there’s Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys (who were brilliant playing Malkin Bowl in Vancouver recently). Their new album has a track called “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” – classic stuff.

Also Kaiser Chiefs (from Leeds). They too have played Vancouver. I think the rain here appeals to Yorkshire folk. Also – it’s further from Lancashire. (See Wars of the Roses – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.) But even historically, Yorkshire has given freely of its musical talent: Frederick Delius for example.

OK, so despite strong evidence to the contrary, it seems Yorkshire folk can actually be quite cultured. Like yoghurt, perhaps.

What’s the next Trivial Pursuit cake slice?

Science & Nature:

Ah – now I learned a couple of interesting facts while listening to the Kaiser Chief’s “I Predict A Riot (YouTube)”. Firstly, I learned that John Smeaton (8 June 1724 – 28 October 1792) was from Leeds. He’s famous for building lighthouses that could stand up to the most vicious of storms. Most notably the third Eddystone Lighthouse – now on the Hoe at Plymouth.

Smeaton's Tower - Hoe

Smeaton's Tower - Hoe

The second thing I learned from the Kaiser Chiefs was that someone from Leeds is referred to as a “Leodensian” – the old name for Leeds being Leodis.

Sports & Leisure:

Where to begin? There’s Geoffrey Boycott of course. A great cricketer, but by all accounts not a very nice person. A much nicer cricketing person was Fred Trueman. Then there’s horse-riding: Harvey Smith. More recently swimming: Adrian Moorhouse a contemporary of mine at high school. Also a contemporary was Richard Nerurkar a great long distance runner and co-founder of the Great Ethiopian Run. Unfortunately though he was born in Wolverhampton, so he doesn’t count!  🙂

Also Ashley Metcalfe – yes, another school contemporary. He played for Yorkshire at cricket too… married Ray Illingworth‘s daughter I believe.


More than you can shake a stick at. See James Cook elsewhere, but there’s also John Harrison of particular note. His chronometers allowed mariners to reliably calculate their longitude – something that the stars couldn’t help with. Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from the UK to Australia. History’s not all good though. It turns out that the traitor Guy Fawkes was born in York. At least he gave us an excuse for a bonfire and jaw-aching toffee in the damp evenings of 5th November though!


Possibly the greatest of them all is James Cook – who filled in more of the blank areas of the world’s maps than any other man. His midshipman in 1772-1775 was one George Vancouver… who went on to name a few minor towns up the West Coast of North America! Yorkshire also influences many other countries with it’s names. Here in Canada, we have Halifax and Scarborough to name but two. The US has Bradford in Pennsylvania, and of course New York.


We’ve done Art and Literature, but there’s also film. Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) is from Sheffield, Sir Ben Kingsley (Ghandi) is from Scarborough and James Mason (North by Northwest) is from Huddersfield. Star Trek’s Sir Patrick Stewart is from Mirfield. My dad got his autograph at Yeadon airport once. Just sayin’…

So that’s it. We’ve done the Trivial Pursuit cake slices, and I think I’ve pretty conclusively shown that Yorkshire has indeed “given” to the world, and undoubtedly deserves the self-ascribed title of “God’s Own County“. Oh – I almost forgot! Monty Python’s Michael Palin is from Sheffield!