Archive for January, 2010

……a very, very, short movie I made today

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Full Moon

Tonight is the brightest full moon of the year (because this is when it’s closest to Earth).
I decided to record the event by taking a photo.
Have you ever tried to take a photo of the moon? On my usual “auto” function the moon just comes out as a big bright white light. So, I did two things – changed the metering to spot metering, put the camera into programme mode, and dropped the exposure one and half stops.
Here’s the result

brightest moon

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BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week this week included Professor Steve Jones, the geneticist. He had something very interesting to say. (You can listen here, or download the podcast from itunes)

He was bemoaning the tendency of the media to run headlines like “Scientists discover the gene for……” and then fill in the blank with whatever physical or behavioural characteristic known to Man. He said very, very clearly that this was pretty much always hype. Even where there was a definite gene, say, for example, for bowel cancer in familial bowel cancer, it was only of relevance to members of families who had the familial pattern of bowel cancer, and meant nothing to everyone else who had bowel cancer. He pointed out that scientists have been unable to “find the gene” which determines height, despite the fact that adult height is strongly related to parental height.

Life, it turns out, is just not so simple. We cannot say, “there’s a gene for that…..” We can say “genetic factors influence……” but that’s really not the same thing at all.

John Cleese put the same point across – in my opinion more effectively, and had me laughing out loud – though I do think the way Steve Jones communicates is also strong, clear and enjoyable. Listen to the programme, and take two minutes to watch this video…..

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The pavilion in Kings Park caught my eye as I walked to work before dawn. I took a couple of photos. One zoomed in on the pavilion itself, the other just from where I stood. I like them both. What do you think? Which do you prefer?



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Scientific progress

The BBC recently broadcast a fabulous programme, “The Secret Life of Chaos”, presented by Prof Jim Al-Khalili. You can find it up on youtube just now, divided into 6 approximately 10 minute parts (I guess, in terms of copyright, it shouldn’t be there, so maybe it’ll disappear).
As well as being a great, crystal clear communication, it’s visually stunning, but the essence of the programme is how scientific discoveries have shown us that the old Newtonian model of “laws” which can be used to accurately predict the future and a universe which works like a giant clockwork really is not a good fit with reality. Over the course of the last hundred years scientists have begun to understand how a better model of the universe is the complex one. There are a couple of particular findings which have changed our view significantly. One is how in a complex system, a small change at the beginning can produce huge changes in the over all system (“the butterfly effect”) and the other is the amazing capacity of complex systems to self-organise.

Both of those findings have shown us that it isn’t possible to accurately know causes, and it isn’t possible to accurately predict outcomes.

Scientists who claim certainty, who with conviction of their own rightness, dismiss anyone who voices doubt or an alternative view, really aren’t up to speed. I like humble scientists who are enthralled by the complexity of reality. I don’t have much time for those who arrogantly claim they know all they need to know about something.

Take a look at this one clip from the programme – it’s the section where he discusses Belousov‘s findings. There are two elements to that story – the amazing, wonderful discovery he made, and the way he was totally dismissed by the ruling orthodoxy because his findings were “against the laws of physics”.


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sometimes you see something and it’s just beautiful…..


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One of the greatest skills we have as human beings is the ability to spot patterns. My eye was drawn to this fungus growing on a tree stump, but later, once I’d uploaded the photo onto my mac, I was amazed to see the echoes, similarities, even symmetries between the patterns in the fungus, the cut slice of the tree, the bark around the tree, and even the shell lying on the ground.

Beautiful. Amazing.


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Seth Godin, recently powerfully called for “hope mongers” to counter the “fear mongers”.

Here’s Satish Kumar, Editor of Resurgence magazine, calling for us to have the courage to move away from the control focus of current times.

Humans have, for one reason or another, cultivated a desire to control: first of all to control natural systems and then to control others. It is clear that we cannot control Nature. We cannot control floods or rain, or climate. As far as people are concerned, in spite of our institutions of spying and surveillance, torture and enslavement, permanent organisations of war and structures of conquest, we are failing miserably to win human hearts and minds and to eliminate opposition. In essence we are failing to establish law and order. We are failing to eliminate crime and we are failing to be at ease with ourselves. Now is the time to stop and observe dispassionately the human predicament. Why are we keeping hundreds of millions of people in jail around the world? Why are we wasting a huge amount of talent, technology and wealth spying on each other, controlling others, fighting wars and murdering innocents? Surely we can do better? Surely we could trust the self-correcting nature of humanity and spend our time, talent and technology as well as creativity and ingenuity to care, to nurture and to replenish as the natural world does?

Here’s a real life example of such shifts.

There’s a tradition in Scotland of the “bonspiel” – it’s a mass gathering of people curling played outside on a frozen loch. The thing is, that despite Scotland’s reputation for cold weather, there is rarely thick enough ice to let such an event happen. The last one was 30 years ago. With the recent cold spell, the Lake of Menteith (Scotland’s only lake – the rest are “lochs”) has frozen solid enough to have a bonspiel, but the authorities said “no” – the old health and safety reasons……however, instead of taking no for an answer and being paralysed by fear, more than 2000 people turned up at the lake this weekend and enjoyed curling, skating and ice hockey.

From fear to hope, from control to freedom, from no to yes……it’s a way of living.

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I got an ipod touch for Christmas and one of the apps I downloaded is called “colorsplash”. Oh, it’s such fun! You load up a photo, it turns it into a black and white version then you use your finger to “paint” back the colour.
Here are my first attempts. I hope you like them….

colorsplash rose

colorsplash splash

colorsplash rainbow

colorsplash shell

This app reminded me just how important it is to have some fun in life, to just play sometimes, just for the creative pleasure of it. This week’s been a difficult week for traveling due to the snow and ice, but one of my train journeys home flew by as I made these four photos.

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Hope mongers

I don’t know if you subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog or not, but if you don’t, I recommend it. I enjoy his thoughts, insights and ideas a lot. Very inspiring.

This lastest piece by him has completely hit the nail on the head I reckon.

He argues against all the “fear mongering” which is being promulgated and in favour of a different approach – to become a “hope monger”. I love that. We are bombarded with fear-inducing stories and it’s feeling like serious manipulation and attempts at control. Can we really go about our ordinary lives expecting (or fearing) the worst in every day? What would life be like if we did? Well……increasingly it’s like that anyway! What a difference it would make to our everyday to assume a default position of hope instead of fear.

Well said, Seth!

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