Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The new e-bicycle.

April 18, 2017

It’s only about 3 and a half miles from my house to my office, down the main (and rather busy) road. And it’s a bit further, and much hillier going over the Glen Road, a track that was a proper road till parts of it fell into the valley below leaving a track that’s now only for people and bicycles. I use this track now, and have been bicycling it once or twice  week for a few years. But I’d like to use it more often, yet I seem to need a day to recover between cycle runs.

So I finally took the plunge and bought an e-bike at the week-end: a Raleigh Motus Crossbar e-bicycle. I bought it from Easygo bikes in Linlithgow, who had a really big range of e-bikes.

So today I commuted to work on it. It’s got 5 different levels of pedal assist, from none to lots: so far I’ve only used the two lower levels of assist. And it’s like cycling with a following wind: it just takes he pain out of the hills. Back on it tomorrow!

Spring at last!

March 19, 2017

“If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring” (song, which I remember from  Harry Secombe singing it, a long time ago, written by Cyril Ornadel and Leslie Bricusse) seems fitting today. We have a small pond, and for most of this week – and particularly today – the frogs have been cavorting like mad. Now we have some frog spawn too, so we look forward to some tadpoles later in the spring. We dug the pond about 15 years ago, and now it seems very much part of the landscape.

Spring is a little early this year, though there’s a little snow forecast for next week, still. Last week, I planted a tree, a Morello Cherry, and it looks good. The sun is shining now, and it must be 10 degrees C, or even a little more. Better get out in it, and abandon this machine!IMG_1502

106 days post-Brexit referendum

October 7, 2016

In a previous post, I talked about the hangover post Brexit. Now we’re starting to feel the pain. And we’re nowhere near actually doing any negotiations. The UK Pound is down about 20%, against the Euro and the Dollar, my friends from the EU who work here are worried (and that’s in Scotland, where the Scottish Government went as far as writing each and every one of them a letter telling them they were valued: goodness knows what it’s like in the deepest wilds of rural England where they voted strongly from Brexit: see the Punch cartoon from 1854 – nothing’s changed).

I cannot get over my anger with the Conservatives and the UKIP people, along with the crap peddled by the tabloid press that led the people down this road. Other have suggested that the voters are stupider that they used to be, but that seems unlikely. I’m reminded of the 1924 Zinoviev letter that may have altered the result of an election (and which was undoubtedly a forgery: published in the Daily Mail of the time). But I feel utterly powerless. What can I do about this idiocy? No-one here is admitting to being in favour of Brexit, though obviously, quite a lot were. Down in England, there’s presumably lots of people happy with the turn of events, as they have their country back, G** help them.

Wait till we actually start negotiations, and look at what happens to the UK Pound then: In the mean time, I’m off to invest in cowrie shells! Except that most of my savings are in the form of my pension, and I can’t go and invest it: it’s just been devalued for me.

I’d better stop here.

 

After the Brexit vote: the hangover

June 24, 2016

Well here we are, 24 June 2016, after a very close vote to leave the EU. And a very different picture here in Scotland where over 60% voted to stay, putting Scotland in the expected company of Northern Ireland, and the unexpected company of London. I am a staunch believer in the EU, so I’m not at all happy about this.

It seems to me that a populist wave is riding high in  politics in many places, from Putin In Russia, to the rise of Trump in the USA, and now this vote. It seems to have been carried primarily by the English (note for non-UK readers: the UK consist of England, with the majority of the population, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), for reasons that seem strange to me, but then I’m biassed. Am I right in thinking it’s  a harking back to halcyon days of yore, with warm beer, skittles in the pub and summer days, or is that too simplistic? It’s hard to see the economic arguments (I can see the car industry shrinking, and the markets for goods made here getting much smaller), and while I can see some arguments (fishing, for example, particularly in Scotland has not been well served but the EU), the arguments about freedom, and unelected representatives leave me cold. Actually, they sound very much like the arguments used in the Scottish referendum a little while ago.

So what now? I suppose we just have to grin (perhaps girn) and bear it. I fear the unintended consequences, like the destabilisation of the Ireland/Norther Ireland situation, like the almost immediately proposed second Scottish referendum, like the uncertainty over who fees and arraignments there may be for EU students coming to UK (and in particular Scottish) Universities. Not forgetting the situation of the very large numbers of expatriate Britons in the EU, and non-British EU nationals in the UK.  I see lots of instability coming up: what a bloody mess, all because the Conservative party was worried about the UK Independence party stealing their clothes. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle…

Of public lectures

April 16, 2016

Last Thursday, I gave a public lecture entitled The incredible shrinking computer: computer hardware from relays to 14 nanometre transistors, part of a series of public lectures in my Department. This series has been running for a few years now, and this was the third time I’d contributed. In 2014, I did one on sound, Hear here: from the ear to the brain, and in 2013 one on artificial intelligence, Artificial Intelligence: is it finally arriving?

These lectures attract an audience of between about 40 and 60, depending on whether it’s nice night, what else is going on, and so on. And it’s actually a lot of work creating these lectures (for example, for the one I just did, I managed to borrow old computer components, and that’s quite apart from the research of putting together something rather better than my average student lecture, with more and better images, for example). So now I (and I suspect, my co-presenters) are interested in where else we might present these talks. Yes, we understand that each talk will need more work, to make it just right for the particular audience, but even then, we’re interested in other possibilities for presenting these again.

I should add that the talks are well received by their audiences, and that the audiences we have had range in age from about 12 upwards – a long way upwards! Is anyone listening out there in www-land? Any suggestions?

(I have two ideas in mind: one is science festivals, and the other is secondary (i.e. high) schools: I just need to get out there and organise them.)

Dark energy and the accelerating expanding Universe

March 31, 2016

Last night there was a Horizon programme on BBC entitled “The Mystery of Dark Energy”. In essence, it was about the discovery that not only was the Universe expanding, but it was doing so at an accelerating rate, as (at least initially) discovered using a particular type of supernova whose brightness is characteristic. They (more or less) laid down a challenge to think up reasons why this might be the case.

Well, I’m not (at least officially) a physicist (though I am a member of the American Institute of Physics through my membership of the the Acoustic Society of America). But I like a challenge. So here goes…

Much is made of the fact that matter bends spacetime, resulting in gravity. And presumably energy also bends spacetime (though the effect is generally small), because of the well-known relationship between energy and matter. In addition, electromagnetic radiation travels at the speed of light, faster than matter can possibly travel. A great deal of energy has been radiated over the duration of the Universe, and is still being radiated. But where is this energy now (in the sense of: where is the wavefront of the energy from long ago?). Clearly, we see from Earth the radiation from a cone of visibility of this energy, but surely most of the energy that has ever been radiated is now travelling (at the speed of light) towards the outer edge of the Universe (aside: I might suggest that the outer edge of the Universe is actually defined by where the energy has reached, combining energy and space in some way, but this may be a distraction from the point I’m trying to make.) So as time goes by, more energy tends to be at the very outermost edges of the Universe, and the bending of space caused by this concentration of energy causes the matter in the Universe to accelerate outwards.

Now, this may be (i) obvious and/or (ii) wrong. And I don’t have the capability (or the time, though even if I had the time, I still doubt whether I’d have the capability!) to put this into equations. But I think it’s comprehensible, and it might be nice to know why it’s wrong…

Ne’erday 2016

January 1, 2016

Today is New Year’s Day (known here as Ne’erday), a public holiday in Scotland. Virtually everything is closed, and it’s a time to meet up with old friends and relations.

I’ve lost my voice, almost certainly virally, but with luck and care, I’ll be better soon. So I thought it time to gather together a few thoughts.

Firstly, I’ve come to realise just how much I usually talk. Particularly with friends and family visiting, not being able to talk – or only being able to talk a little made me realise how much I do talk. I should listen more.

Secondly, being a little unwell made me able to read the books I’ve been reading through impossibly slowly, and some of those I’d been given for Christmas. Henning Mankell’s “A Treacherous Paradise” is a wonderful recreation of what Africa must have been like to a white person in the early 1900’s. Now I’m reading William Dalrymple’s “From the Holy Mountain“, a recreation in the late 1990’s of a much earlier travelogue by Moschos (The spiritual meadow). This includes a great deal about early Eastern Christianity, particularly in the time around the foundation of Islam: it puts quite a number of issues into perspective, not least the huge differences between the many forms of Christianity practised there at that time, and modern Western Christianity. It puts a very different context into the issues of today. I should read more.

To close let me share a thought I had as I bought a newspaper in the only open shop in the town. Imagine if we had militant fundamentalist Scots whose religion forbade the opening of shops on the Ne’erday holiday – would there have been a crowd of kilted hairy Scotsmen (and women in plaids too) demonstrating against the shop being open, and threatening prospective customers with their sgian dubh’s?

I have just discovered Rumi…

April 10, 2015

I read a review of something that mentioned Rumi, and I recalled that he was a 13th century mystic poet, whose name  I had heard of somewhere, but knew nothing at all about. And I recalled that 13th century Persia  was a very cultivated and civilised place, with a history much longer than Dunblane in Scotland, where I’m writing this.

So I ordered the book that was mentioned, and eventually it arrived. It’s been sitting winking at me for most of the week, as I’ve struggled with marking assignments (or, enjoyed playing jazz…). And so this evening, tired out, and after a little wine, I finally opened it.

The effect was electric.

I read the poem “Sexual urgency, what a woman’s laughter can do, and the nature of true virility”. I had to read it aloud.  I thought through the images. I read it again, and saw more layers of images.

Finally I thought: I’ll write a blog about this, but before I do, I’ll look for “I have just discovered Rumi” on Google. There was only 10 results, but I knew I was not alone. I looked for the tile of the poem I named, and I found many copies of it. I was definitely not alone.

I haven’t read any more yet, but this was a teaching story by a Sufi master, set to delicate verse I suspect in Persian, and set to very effective verse in Coleman Bark’s translation. It made me think of Idries Shah’s books that I read nearly forty years ago, and that led me to reading teaching stories from the cultures, for there are many in other religions.

I shall come back for more.

The solar eclipse

March 20, 2015

There was a nearly total solar eclipse here this morning: it was total rather further north-west of here, but here it max’d out at about 97%. Most of the University staff came out to watch. We’d been promised quite thick cloud, but in the event, there was mix of light and heavy cloud, and that meant that one could sometimes see the crescent of the sun using a dark filter (I used some old photo slides from 1978 – others actually had the right glasses, while others looked at the reflection and one person used a plastic divider which worked rather well). But one way or another we all saw it. My colleague Peter Hancock had his camera properly set up, and took a rather nice image (which I’ll as him if I can put up here). Meanwhile here’s one of mine taken with an iPhone 4!IMG_1012 I have a friend who was up in Torshavn, and when he uploads his (total eclipse picture!), I’ll add a link to it.

The light at the eclipse had a strange ethereal feel to it; not darkness, that’s for sure, but a light that cast sharp shadows, and seemed very white. It also got rather cold!

After watching Selma…

February 22, 2015

On Friday, my wife and I went to see the file Selma, at the MacRobert Cinema at Stirling University. It’s a great film: dramatic, moving, quite long, but paced. The words and the oratory are wonderful to listen to. And of course, it covers events that we can remember being aware of in out own time, as young teenagers in Europe, as we heard about civil rights in America with the ears of an idealistic post-war generation, and as we watched the war in Vietnam gradually heat up.

But there was one quote that really struck home to me (again probably as a North European), and though I have searched for it, I can’t find it: in essence it pointed out that one of the ways the rich whites in the America kept the poor whites down was by ensuring there was a group who were always lower then them, namely the black Americans. It hit home, because that’s been true in many societies: the Irish in Scotland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the native populations in Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many others too, at many different times. And that seems to be something that is always in danger of being present.

So the father hits his older son, who then punches his little sister, who the slaps her smaller brother, who then kicks the dog…

Is this “just human nature” or can we do better?

One thing I discovered looking for the quote above was just how strongly King wrote on poverty and war, as well as on racism, how much he was far, far more than a single issue politician. I am beginning to understand why there is  Martin Luther King Day in the USA.