Thursday, December 27, 2007

Peace on earth

Can't say this is original, I wrote it as a contribution to a thread over at Public Address - Someone paid me one of the kindest compliments I have ever received as a result. Its real and about as me as it gets, worth preserving then. Enjoy.

Peace on earth 1.

My father and I spent the day arguing I’m drunk, he’s barely conscious. We have guests. I’m laying the table, I drop a fork, he tells me to wash it, I reply “you f*****g wash it”. The guests have to restrain us both and someone else washes the fork. We sit to eat, I’m serving my father, doing it silver style, I twitch, purely by accident and cover him in overdone, quite mobile greens. He eyeballs me, I eyeball him and the room elects not to take any further breaths for the time being. Then I see what I think is the vaguest crinkle next to his recently greened eye. We both look to either side and I really can’t remember who started it. A smile, a chuckle, a giggle and then peals of tear busting, asthmatic provoking laughter; the spirit of Christmas brings peace for another day.

Peace on earth 2.

Still not over the breakdown of a 4 year relationship, feeling quite sorry for myself, I elected not to celebrate Christmas. I was nursing an extraordinary hangover having passed out at 7pm the day before. The house was freezing and I could not be bothered to connect up the new gas bottle, I crawled into bed instead. The phone rang three times; I decided not to be in. Then this awful banging on the door “Saes ! we know you’re in there - John and Della are coming to collect you in half an hour !”. John and Della owned a farm over the hill, Della had been my tutor at Uni, they are both the most decent committed Christians I know and I am about as atheist as they come. Failing to contact me by phone, they in that very North Wales way checked with my neighbours and got them to alert me instead. People like me don’t deserve friends like that. I don’t remember the meal or much of the following days. I do remember standing in an empty slate quarry with five companions singing Hymns and carols for all my voice, and what could be taken for a soul was worth. I can neither describe nor understand the peace that moment brought me.

A gift from my partner.

My partner gets my need for solitude which is a great comfort to me. One Christmas shortly after we first got together, we finished work on the evening of the 23rd, packed gear and drove from Sheffield to the northern highlands of Scotland. Late afternoon met our arrival at the bottom of a small range of Corbett’s and Munro’s I’d recce’d the year before. We did a night tramp for the first part, pitching out about two thirds of the way from the top of this particular peak. Christmas day from the camp looked a bit misty and not too bright, by eleven it had cleared just enough for us to photograph the wreck of a WW2 Wellington bomber. We could just see the peak and decided to have a go with what looked like quite a long zigzag route. As the ascent progressed the Sun came out and we went really fast, no words, just the crunch of snow and us. They call it a flow state and it was one of the most complete moments of my life. At the top I could see the range, the sea, my partner, two sets of tracks and not another living soul. Not the highest peak I’ve ever done and by no means the most difficult or indeed the most spectacular scenery, but it was mine. Only half the chocolate was mine though. It became clear at the peak that my partner was getting very cold very fast; with old gear not really up to the job, I cracked out my dry set and my partner doubled up layers. We set off downhill quite fast and made quite a wise decision at camp deciding to continue the walk off. I put my partner in the bothybag with a hot pack and pitched up. As we walked off a blizzard followed us all the way down to the tree line where we camped briefly and then carried on the then thick snow. Sat finally in a snowbound car I realised my partner who really hadn’t enjoyed the show, had given me one perfect Christmas day.

If Santa didn’t exist would we have to have had invent one anyway ?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Kiwis and Cars

There is a lot to like about being in NZ but motoring is not one of them. New Zealanders don’t shoot each other a la USA; they kill each other with cars.

My guess is that few if any charges will be laid against the driver that did this. I can hear the court argument now. Dangerous road, the pedestrian should have crossed the road to use the path on the other side. Questions that won’t be addressed properly:

i) Why is the road so dangerous?

ii) Why wasn’t there a path on both sides of the road?

iii) Do we seriously think that a drunk driver is not culpable in this regard?

The picture provided tells us that there was space for a path and that there was quite a lot of road to drive on.

New Zealand has to change driver behaviour and philosophy the time for excuses is over.

Just in case you thought this was an isolated incident.

Lots of people a lot of pain.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman

It seems foolish to mourn the death of a man who didn't know me; nor I him in truth. More important is to note the contribution he made to my life. Ingmar Bergman changed the way I thought about life and saw the world. I believe I am a better man as a result. I would have waited another lifetime for another Seventh Seal as it is the world will never be the same.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Time to take sides ?

I read with interest about the recent UCU vote to boycott Israeli academia and their decision to talk some more. I read with even more interest the poisonous and arrogant response from the US lobby.

My thoughts:

i) Without broad support from within government and the civil service in the UK the boycott is unlikely to prove effective. Those who want to ignore it will do. A more important point; is those who already boycott Israel or undertake legitimate criticism, will at least have someone else to help protect them from the sort of academic bullying that takes place in the US.

ii) This is in no way an anti-semitic gesture. This is about saying in plain language that Israel is wrong. Merely suggesting that they ought to change is no longer sufficient. No more hand wringing and hubris please.

iii) This gesture needs to be put into the context or a request by Israeli academics to allow students in Gaza to study in the West Bank. Despite pleas to the contrary academic freedom is clearly not universal.

iv) I hope this does open a real debate unencumbered by the anti-semite bleat. Time to take sides.

n.b. I have boycotted Israeli goods for some 15 years now. I don’t feel like I have missed out on much so far.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Had to have a go myself........

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Books –

My grandfather taught me to read. To begin with he read to me on Wednesday nights; he would come over on the ferry we’d have boiled eggs and Victoria sponge for tea. He would bath me, put me to bed and read until I fell asleep.

Henry Woods was a Welsh miner, quite proud of the fact that he could read at all, and doubly proud of the fact that he could teach said skill to me. Not surprisingly books are a great comforter for me. My earliest days were spent with 365 bedtime stories and Reed’s wonder tales of Maori land (sent to me from my Nana in Auckland). I still have Reed and all my copies of the Pippin annual. I could read somewhat sooner than all the other kids I knew. As such it set me apart but I didn’t notice because I had my head in a book or reading over someone else’s shoulder. At infant school I was often found asleep in the small library with Britannica on my lap.

At juniors I remember distinctly being accused of stealing books; the problem being that no one actually thought I was capable of reading them.

The first stand out book for me was an illustrated copy of Pilgrims Progress I loved the tale, missed the metaphor altogether but worse than that I thought the illustration of Apollyon was soooo cool. No surprises that I ended up an atheist.

War mags yep, Biggles yep, Hornblower Yep, Famous Five yeuuch, Henry Treece Yep, Encycopedias Yeaah, and rather strangely Aircraft of the Fighting Powers. I skipped the Bible. Solzhenitsyn proved too much too soon but Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov were cool with me.

During the long hot summers abroad I went through a MacDonalds phase reading sometimes as many as three pulp specials a day. I returned to school after one such summer, bored with ordinary words and looking for something new. Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves; but I came back to Siegfried Sassoon a book I had seen on the desk of an old mentor many years before , The Memoirs of George Sherston. I felt betrayed that Sherston wouldn’t go back at first and then my life truly changed.

There were only two rules at my boarding school; don’t tell ever and don’t tell anyone; behind this veil lived bullying and abuse. I broke ranks and told about the bullying of one boy by my then best friend and the biggest kid in my year. I regard it as one of the few good things I ever managed at school. The kid who was bullied the most was never sure whether to thank me or not, after all he’d gone from being a victim to a nobody, almost overnight (we later got into a fight which led to me beating him very badly, something I still regret deeply). Despite the beatings, the property destructions and the fights that followed, I never regretted that act. The change was to set me on the road to political activism, protesting and all sorts. At one stage I was the chaperone to the UK’s only lesbian pool team. For many years Tao Te Ching brought peace and space to my mind

Later I read Marx, Mein Kampf, and the Bible but I managed to mix this with Iain Banks, Gibbo and Phillip K Dick (Far more fun). Thomas Hardy changed the way I felt about life and DH Lawrence changed the way I saw people. Oh and I finally read Tolkein; errrrm seven times.

Being involved with stage led me to Waiting for Godot (got it after the 5th performance !) and Dr Faustus.

At University I read Gillies and Aronson in close succession; neither people nor sciences were ever the same again. I launched into poetry going backwards in time from Larkin to Shakespeare. I even finished Foucault’s Pendulum but failed Solzhenitsyn a second time.

I courted my wife by reading AA Milne and the Zig Zag Kid by David Grossman to her. I am currently reading the Iliad a second time. My sister coincidentally is married to a writer and manages a bookshop.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bloggers anonymous anyone ?

I’m p****d off over this Kathy Sierra thing for a lot of reasons.

i) People who perpetrate such nastiness from behind a veil of anonymity are scumbags.

ii) Other mortals who take advantage of anonymity, have had to suffer the wrath of the self righteous and occasionally self serving blog community many of whom see no benefit in anonymity.

iii) The result has been a code of conduct for the blogsphere. This upsets me for two reasons: Firstly the code is unworkable but more worryingly the code represents an attempt to regulate instead of educate. This bothers me because I would have hoped for something more from the online community. A philosophy of freedom seems to have served the online community well, why give it up now?

iv) I don’t like being called a coward on account of the behaviour of others.

So why 81stcolumn ?

I have been 81stcolumn pretty much for as long as I have been on-line. The tag refers specifically to the extra column that appeared on old 80cloumn VDU’s. You only saw this column if the line was full of text and you couldn’t program it (I don’t think). It also laterally refers to 80 column programming cards – when a program appeared not to work for any obvious reason we used to talk about a stray bit in the 81stcolumn. Not surprisingly I was trying to create an air of mystery and grandness. After all, to know what the 81stcolumn is would be to indicate that you have been in computing for quite a while… trying to be a smart arse.

When I decided to attempt blogging I thought long and hard about whether it was reasonable to keep this ID up. I decided I would for several reasons;

I would like to keep my job and politics as far apart as possible. A large part of my job involves communicating with others. In these situations I have to appear to be capable of unconditional and non-judgemental acts. Consequently I didn’t want to have to discuss my politics in these situations or let my politics interfere with how others saw me. I just plain wouldn’t be able to work as effectively.

At the time when I made the decision there was some doubt as to whether I would be re-employed in my current role. Lack of employment would have meant having to leave my wife and my home. SWMBO probably puts up with enough as it is. At the same time I badly wanted to blow the whistle on what I saw as unethical and dare I say bullying practices at work. I hinted at some of this in this blog at the time. The process itself was helpful to me and kept me in my job long enough that I might be able to do something good in the future. I certainly stopped me form threatening to assault my bosses. I eventually made my point clear to my bosses later and that point to my surprise was well relieved and acted on. I honestly believe that my anonymous blogging was helpful at the time. Which brings me rather neatly to my next points.

The idea of blogging anonymously has served the world quite well when gaining a snapshot of life in Iran, China and elsewhere. I am not saying that I am in any way as valuable as these folks. What I am saying is that sometimes the protection of anonymity is of value.

To underline this point whenever I have been “me” on-line it has caused me to question whether I should bother to be involved on line at all. The first time was in a school discussion board where the MSM picked up my name as someone who had been in contact with a known kiddie fiddler. No the guy had never touched me and no I did not want to discuss this further, an unpleasant surprise never the less. On a subsequent occasion, I was phoned and berated verbally by an anonymous contributor to another board, who had tracked me to my workplace to continue a disagreement he felt was unresolved on line. In both cases this would not have been possible had I used my pseudonym.

As someone who has been run-over, searched repeatedly, chased and beaten up for openly expressing my views face to face in public I see no reason to acknowledge an argument to do with my courage (or lack thereof) on-line. Maybe I’m just tired of being the one that gets flagged to be searched in airline checks etc. I know I grew tired of listening to a lot of unhappy people and getting the same government; then seeing a much smaller group of people at protests that had more verbal than material support. I think it most unfair to make presumptions of cowardice, based purely on the failings of others. It shows a complete lack of imagination to think that all anonymous users are “abusers by proxy” or “nastiness waiting to pounce”. I won’t buy into the macho call-you-out b******t as a response. A good read of my blog would identify me fairly accurately anyway.

I have offered to identify myself at my favourite discussion board over at PA. I am still trying to find a balance between the comfort of anonymity and blogging it real. Being scolded from a soapbox is unlikely to help. Besides I'm chronically self conscious in the presence of so many people on discussion boards who are clearly better informed and smarter than me…….

Monday, March 19, 2007

A lesson in dignity……

dignity noun 1 stateliness, seriousness and formality of manner and appearance. 2 goodness and nobility of character. 3 calmness and self-control. – From chambers on line.

I met Alan on a Thursday night in March. He had lost the key to his motorcycle. He had lost it after competing in a local swim-run competition. We couldn’t find it in the dark. SWMBO and I offered him a lift home to get the spare he thought he kept in a box.

During the course of the search it seemed that Alan wasn’t the sharpest knife in the draw. Suspicions were confirmed during the ride home, the guy really wasn’t too bright. Never the less the conversation reminded me of a thing or two. Alan was in his thirties and he worked for a contractor the serviced Auckland city. He was part of the cleansing crew, he cleaned toilets, emptied bins, swept streets. He is part of an invisible army that keeps the posh bits of Auckland clean and halfway decent. He was a little sad because that race was probably his last one and he wasn’t going to go to the awards dinner at NZ$75 a ticket. On further questioning it became clear why.

Alan works 55hours a week he works split shifts six until midday and then four until late. He works Saturdays and gets Thursdays off. In order to race he has to get cover from his mates from time to time. Not surprisingly he struggles to train. He gets paid the minimum wage, and as far as we can work out he takes home a bit more than a PhD scholarship student (NZ$25k). He has a new wife to support. She is an invalid who got her benefit cut when she married. She gets to work a few hours a week cleaning in a workshop and at a local nursery. They are both looking forward to going away for their first anniversary.

Alan seems a happy enough bloke and quite reasonable with it, he didn’t complain once about his life. His circumstances became clear in a conversation about training and racing.

I am told it is a point of pride in New Zealand that "the Prime Minister gets to stand with the rest of us in the queue at the fish and chip shop". Sounds a bit hollow if some folks in the queue can only afford some to buy chips.

I really truly hope he and his wife have a good time. I also hope his bike is okay.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

About science, facts, knowledge and climate change.

i) The scientist and the science cannot be separated. Polanyi's still influential work points out that the scientists are informed by tacit knowledge which determines the scientific questions they ask, the methods they use and the way in which data is presented.

My point is that there is probably no such thing as objective science or pure unbiased facts as a result.

ii) Causality is difficult, hard and maybe impossible to prove -

Which is why many settled for falsification.

However even this approach suffers because of the methods involved with falsification. Hence we should note that sceptics are often dealt the better hand in science and to some extent law. The sceptics mantra should read - If you don't like the facts start to pick at how they are created; failing that start on semantics and agreed truths.

iii) The theories we choose to apply and make use of are as much determined by mood of the time and history as they are by the basic business of scientific falsification.

Philosophy of Science in the Twentieth Century: Four Central Themes (Paperback) by Donald Gillies and work by TS Kuhn ( still offer useful thoughts on this issue.

The point here is that we shouldn't be surprised if public policy is slow to change-scientific consensus is also really slow to arise.

iv) In some ways saying that you can understand research without having a grasp of stats and methodology is a bit like suggesting you should just kick the tyres before buying a car. Yep you can do it, but don't be surprised if what you get is unreliable.


Nope there is no easy way to grasp this debate or evaluate the evidence within it. But usual rules apply; multiple sources, cross reference, check authority and agenda. Please be patient and persist with science and scientists it is tough turning squiggles and graphs into yes/no, good/bad right/wrong, and sometimes common language isn't good enough.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I don't think the reality distortion field can hold much longer captain..........

Well I didn't get it quite right last March but it seems clear that change is on its way. Either Apple shifts the market a la EMI or the market shifts Apple. Either way I don't think Fairplay will be a money maker forever. And if that wasn't good news enough someone's cracked HDVideo for us. Hmm now all I need is a HD disk and something to play it on. Oh and I wouldn't bank on the IPhone getting to far either. Greedy Apple got indigestion ?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Strange times in Saudi…

If this recent article is to be believed then Saudi Arabia wants nuclear power. Vladimir Putin has agreed to help the Saudis out. I think it’s a great idea not burning fossil fuels in power stations….well done Saudi. But wait a minute this is Saudi Arabia, a desert country, a country that is a desert because it is dry, sunny and it doesn’t rain more than 4-5 inches a year. It also is a country with a lot of space I mean a lot of space. This is the sort of country where state of the art solar power makes sense; so why bother with Nuclear Power unless you want something else. Well of course Saudi wants something else. Putin wants business and somewhere to sell guns like everyone else. We should however note at the same time that it was Russia who helped build some troublesome Nuclear Power plants in ermmmmmmm Iran.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

No not dead yet……

Been training for Ironman and have struggled to stay at the keyboard or indeed get to the keyboard for long enough to finish a decent piece of writing. I will eventually finish my Mac rant but in the meantime would like to issue the following warning to any would be Ironmen and Women.

i) If you train properly your life will disappear.

ii) Yes it really does cost a lot of money and I’m not just talking about the cost of the entry.

iii) I don’t know which is more painful the training or the weekly massage that is supposed to help me get over the training.

iv) I suspect I will understand pain a whole new way after race day.

v) I have no idea what makes me persist with this goal.

But for now it is time to sleep.