An Embuggerance

12 03 2015

An Embuggerance indeed.

BBC News – Obituary: Sir Terry Pratchett.

Rest in Peace, you wonderful, creative man.

As quoted by Aunty Beeb:

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2009 he was sanguine about his prospects.

“I intend, before the endgame looms, to die sitting in a chair in my own garden with a glass of brandy in my hand and Thomas Tallis on the iPod, the latter because Thomas’s music could lift even an atheist a little bit closer to Heaven.

Oh, and since this is England, I had better add, ‘If wet, in the library.’ “

Witticisms from his books would keep us here all night, so let’s just end with:

“Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you”; Terry Pratchett – Small Gods





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”.

Conversely:

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

 





Unaccustomed as I am…

2 10 2012

So I first got into this blogging lark at the tail end of 2011. I was in Belo Horizonte, Brazil at the time on business, and feeling a bit “meh”. A colleague suggested I start a blog to exorcise my demons, or maybe it was to exercise my deviance, I forget now. So here I am, almost a year later looking at things a little differently.

The planet’s spun itself around about 300 times since then. The music hasn’t stopped yet, thankfully. To my knowledge nobody’s been reported as having been thrown off or floated away, despite the fact that if they lived at the equator, they’ve been for a roundabout ride at roughly 1,600km/h! The third rock itself has almost done a complete lap of our little sun, travelling at around 107,300 km/h. Quite astonishing really… and we take it all for granted.

Lots of water has flowed under the bridge in that time. I’ve changed jobs, travelled to Europe, visited Salt Lake City and Phoenix, drunk an immeasurable quantity of Russian Caravan tea, experienced some incredible friendship, hiked both the Grouse and the Stawamus Chief every way imaginable, been eaten alive (by mosquitoes… what were you thinking?), discovered some new World Music, learned an awful lot about myself – some of it pretty uncomfortable, some of it surprising.

Where was I before I got distracted? Oh yes – Brazil. So anyway, as well as having travelled untold miles/kilometres* (*delete as applicable in your locale) going nowhere in galactic terms, I have also typed in and posted 490 blog entries, and had a few hundred comments on them in return. Feeling quite smug with myself really – despite still having just as many demons and deviances as before. At least they’re all neatly alphabetised and cross-indexed now. Well – the ones I’ve found so far.

So today I got a comment telling me I was now the recipient of a blogging award! Not had one of those for a while. Was a little taken aback really. Always nice to feel noticed, especially when you’re not particularly expecting it. Unless you’re a bank robber I suppose.

Anyway, sheriji over on Just Sayin’ offered me The Reader Appreciation Award. Aw shucks – thanks!! If you’ve not visited her blog yet, you’d best be working on a good excuse! She was kind enough to describe these humble pages as “a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, but all about life and our reactions to it. Plus I always want to know, quieter than what?” The answer to that of course is quite irrelevant. (Please don’t make me explain…)

Inevitably there’s some “rules” (self-imposed. Aren’t they always?) to follow.

1.  When I pass it on, I provide a link to the giver’s post, and thank the blogger who nominated me.

So thank-you sheriji – really. I’m glad you found a few crumbs of entertainment here.

2.  Answer 10 questions within my own blog.

My favourite colour

Hm… when I was a kid, it used to be red. I remember being over the moon when I was 8 and being in “red team” on sports day, and getting to wear a red sash for the egg and spoon race. Then as I got older this became associated in my mind with politics, so I decided I should like blue. These days, it depends what mood I’m in. I like ambiguity. Except when I crave certainty. Greenish-bluish makes me smile. Especially when it’s really grey with attitude, but nobody dare argue.

My favourite animal to include in a story?

Though I have yet to write the story, it’d have to be the echidna. Not an echidna, THE echidna. I did once write a story about a goldfish. But it wasn’t my favourite.

My favourite non-alcoholic drink while writing?

While doing anything: tea! Writing, talking, philosophising, or just floating in the moment.

Printed books or e-books?

Printed. I’m old-school with words. I write with an ink pen (which I refill every Friday to make sure I don’t run out of ink at a crucial moment). I love the texture of a well-made book – even if I can’t read its words. I also like the musty smell of old browning paperbacks. Weird? Who? Me?! I did win a Kobo eReader last Christmas, and I have used it. But, it’s just NOT the same… Like a text-message conversation is not the same as looking into the eyes of the person you’re sharing ideas with. It’s more than a means of representing the words. It’s part of the experience.

My favourite writer(s) now?

Terry Pratchett is always “up there” – he has such wit and breadth. I am sad for his failing health with Alzheimer’s – I liked the old him, and business and books being what they are, I’ll never know the new him.

I like Giles Milton too, for non-fiction.

As I turn to look at my bookcase for anyone else I might especially like, I am struck by the wide diversity of what I see there!

Jasper Fforde I guess should be there. The Eyre Affair was such a great concept.

My favourite writer(s) ten years ago?

Well Pratchett was still churning them out faster than I could read them back then, so he’s still on the list.

Philip K Dick. He couldn’t write for toffee, but boy did he have some great story ideas!

I read a lot of Ranulph Fiennes back then. What a life that guy has lived!

John Wyndham. What Dick could have been. Each book a great central idea, but much more well delivered with richer characters and human depth.

My favourite poet – Classic & Current?

I’m not really that well read in poetry.

I remember having to read a poem by e e cummings with my class when I was in Primary School, and being awestruck that he dared to break the rules of English, even when I barely knew them myself. Of course, now I’m more cynical and think his typewriter was just broken. I believe it was “hist whist“, if you’re interested. Yup – that’s right: I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I remember what poem I had to read in front of assembled parents 40 years ago!

I think of songs as poetry (some listen to the tune, I like the words). I love Fiona Apple‘s imagery, but John Lennon will always be the master for me, with Roger Waters a close second.

My favourite time of day to write?

When I have something to say! I think we make time to do the things that matter to us. We take risks and break rules to do what we think is “right” or “important”… whatever those words mean to us at any given moment. We justify not doing things by claiming there was no time or some rule prevented us. Really it was because we didn’t think it was important enough right there, right then.

What is your passion when it comes to your writing?

Passion is a strong word!

I like to be entertaining. Witty if possible. Educational possibly. Sometimes sneaky or wriggly.

[That’s only 9!! It’s the engineer in me… I notice things like that. Or maybe I’m just anally retentive.]

LATE EDIT: I traced the daisy chain back and found where the 10th question went. I was asked to offer a substitution, so here it is…

Which of the five senses do you value the most?

I think they’re all important obviously. We’ve evolved them as a “necessary and sufficient” set. However, we’re really good with this brain thing too, so we can adapt. I think I’d have the toughest time losing my sight. If I’d never seen at all, it might be different, but now, I think I’d struggle to not have those glimpses of other people living their lives. The changes of the colours in the trees. Glint of sun on water. I think the other senses would heighten, but I’d always mourn the loss of seeing a child smile when they see their parent. A lover’s glance over a dinner table. A raised eyebrow in signalled mischief.

3.  Nominate other blogs that I find a joy to read. (Ten is recommended)

I don’t think I regularly read that many, but let’s see how we do…

Photo . Lord Content – a daily photo competition that has some unbelievable images posted

Misfits’ Miscellany – Fostering poetry and writing that others might not. A good virtual friend to-boot. And believe me, if we ever meet, I’ll boot him!

Breathtaking Portraits – Wha’? It’s art… honest!

Scout Magazine – For what’s happening in Vancouver, my adopted home.

Howtodateboys – An insight into how women think. (I’m none the wiser, but it’s heart-felt and honest)

illustration & calligraphy – You’re joking right? What do you THINK it’s about?!

4.  Provide links to these nominated blogs and kindly let the recipients know that they have been nominated.

Photo . Lord Content

Misfits’ Miscellany

Breathtaking Portraits

Scout Magazine

Howtodateboys

illustration & calligraphy

5.  Include the award logo within your own blog post.

I can do that… thanks again sheriji!