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Perception and Illusion, Historical Perspectives (2006) by Nicholas Wade and published by Springer is a remarkable book. It manages to spend around 250 pages talking about, (you’ve guessed it) perception and illusion, but without (would you believe) a single illustration.
A barely believable story about a slightly deranged American intelligence worker who goes AWOL knowing everything? Haplessly pursued by the NSA & GCHQ? I’ll clearly never work in intelligence because it has taken me until now to rememeber that I started writing just such a story WAAAY back in 2006. Although unlike our present ridiculous reality, it also had quirk that every character was named after a type of tea.
Here’s the start of chapter 2:
London, Tuesday 17th December
Doctor Whittard, the chief Librarian, was not a happy man. The biggest problem when running a government department that does not officially exist is the filling in of forms. Government runs on paperwork and in order to get anything done, the appropriate forms have to be filled in. Fully filled in, particularly the boxes marked:
• 4c. – Staff ID & grade of requesting manager (see notes 23-47)
• 7g. – Department Accounting ID (see notes 84-89)
• 24a. – Office Address (including room locator ID, floor # and building identifier code, see notes 132-137)
These always proved troublesome. Dr. Whittard did not have an official title. To anyone who needed to know, he was known as the Chief Librarian, but not many people did need to know this and so for certain bureaucratic purposes he was nominally at times an external consultant, a farming policy director and, ever so occasionally, a submarine commander. Similarly, his department never appeared in audited government accounts and their funding came via any number of imaginative routes; often quite literally so.. much of last years budget was diverted from a non-existent motorway link between Staines and Egham.
Even the location of the Library was hard to describe. Their main ’branch’ was in Ipswich, Massachusetts but gave its address as Cardiff. The real Cardiff branch was actually in Swansea, and although most of the rest of the staff worked out of the GCHQ building in Chelmsford, this information was too sensitive to be known even to them, so they were told they worked for MI6, which was told as little as possible. Dr. Whittard himself worked from an office above a MacDonalds restaurant near Victoria station, but if he stepped out of his office into the hallway he would technically be on American soil. This made it very difficult to get his room cleaned by government cleaning services without a nightmare of visas and work permits and also meant that his internal post often crossed the Atlantic several times before he received it. Today’s form was more problematic than usual. Dr. Whittard had never had to fill in a missing personnel report before. Certainly not for a member of staff who was working out of an American office on a project almost no-one else in Her Majesty’s government knew about, an employee who had never been formally employed and who was a law unto herself anyway.
As he did whenever he needed to think, Dr. Whittard turned on the vacuum and started hoovering his office carpet. He was making good progress with the cleaning and was going down promising philosophical avenues about whether he even needed to make a missing persons report for a member of staff who did not officially exist when the door burst open. Dr. Whittard was crouched awkwardly trying to reach that difficult spot down beside the document shredder and when the bustling Major-General Earl Grey III tripped over the vacuum hose they were both sent tumbling to the ground.
“Jesus Henry Christ, Whittard! What in Satan’s name are you doing, man?”, the General shouted, leaping to his feet, his gun already drawn. “Good morning, General. Just clearing away the cobwebs.” Whittard reply, righting himself more gingerly and turning off the vacuum cleaner.
Dr. Whittard did not like Americans. As a statistician he knew it was wrong to generalise from a single case but he disliked General Grey so much that it spilled over to discolour his view of all things American. But this was as nothing to the General’s dislike for Dr. Whittard, which was nothing personal, merely a particular intersection of the General’s most intense dislikes and suspicions. He did not trust any civilians, he was suspicions of all non-Americans and strongly disliked anyone clever. It was not surprising therefore that General Grey absolutely hated Dr. Whittard.
There are two types of people in the intelligence world. Those with intelligence and those who wish to act on it, the thinkers and the doers. There was never less of a doer that Dr. Whittard and it was one of General Grey’s proudest boasts about himself that he was not a thinker.
“Never mind. Never mind. What about this stinking soothsayer, Whittard?”, the General demanded.
“Camellia? She appears to have disappeared, General.” “I know that! What are you doing about it?”
“Ah yes,” said Whittard perking up that the General might approve that he actually been working on this. “I am filling in the 4296-f right now.”
“What in Jericho’s walls is a 4926-f?”
“A 4296-f,” Whittard automatically corrected, his passion for accurate facts catching him out even when another part of his brain knew that nothing annoyed General Grey more than being corrected.
“Do you think you could stop pointing your gun at me please General?
And here’s a bit more
I guess I have to start from sratch now.
These designs just popped into my head. Will someone please make them for me?
Sadly, it turns out that these beasts aren’t just ellusive, they are now also really endangered
Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist and a science communicator. He’s a cosmologist with a particular interest in understanding what time is. He is also a vocal atheist who spends a fair bit of his own time arguing with philosophers and theologians. Here’s what he has to say about the meaning of life.
.. the absence of meaning “out there in the universe” does not mean that people can’t live meaningful lives. Far from it. It simply means that whatever meaning our lives might have must be created by us, not given to us by the natural or supernatural world. There is one world that exists, but many ways to talk about; many stories we can imagine telling about that world and our place within it, without succumbing to the temptation to ignore the laws of nature. That’s the hard part of living life in a natural world, and we need to summon the courage to face up to the challenge.
Lambeth council are acting very unreasonably towards my neighbours in Carlton Mansions. Brixton Buzz have the story here.
I’ve written to the Coldharbour Ward councillors.
Dear Councillors Anyanwu, Heywood & Parr,
I am writing to express my concern and disappointment with the way the council is treating my friends and neighbours in Carlton Mansions. The council appears to be acting with unnecessary and possibly even vindictive haste, attempting to evict residents at extremely short notice after a recent fire assessment. As i understand it the residents intend to dispute the assessment but have not been given any time to prepare their case.
The Carlton Mansions co-operative represents a successful and extremely long standing example of community living. As I understand it the tenants have already agreed that they will be moved on nearer the time of the redevelopment of Somerleyton Road. This action unnecessarily disrupt the lives of the families in Carlton Mansions. At least one child under two will be affected by this eviction. The council makes much of its claims to be a ‘co-operative council’. Therefore, I cannot see why the council is chosing to act in this manner. It makes me feel like the interests of developers are being put ahead of the interests of long term members of the community.
Moreover, this callous and high-handed way of dealing with residents sends an ominous message about the councils commitment to a genuinely community -based redevelopment of Somerleyton Road. I for one will now be watching all your actions a lot more carefully.
Around 25 years after first attempting it, I have finally learned how to smoke.
There’s hope for us all.
A couple of independent filmmakers have released this partially completed documentary charting the corruption connected with Rio’s megasports preparations. Favelas are being cleared by very underhand means with the police and militia illegally forcing people out of their homes so that developers can build and profit from the forthcoming World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016. The film is unfinished because the story is still unfolding but they need money to keep going. Telling the story as it is happening may also prevent even worse injustices from happening. Please watch and share.
It seems unlikely that supergenius Danny Hillis was unhappy with his time as a Disney ‘Imagineer’ . Where, according to this week’s Nature, he got to do very cool things like design themepark rides. But I wonder what Mickey thinks about Danny’s new job; killing a lot of mice with cancer.
Cancer research kills a lot of mice but in the following video Danny explains that he’s going to another level. It’s the result of a pinoneering approach that applies big data to bioscience. Together with oncologist David Agus, he’s bringing data science wizardry to proteomics, the study of the proteins associated with gene-expression.
First they built robots to automate and replicate blood protein analysis on level of unprecedented detail and precision. This prompted a holistic approach to solving cancer. “Cancer should be a verb”, argues Hillis because cancer is a process not a thing. The disease model of medicine works for problems caused by “things” like viruses or bacteria but it will break down for some like cancer. Cancers are more a kin to a process running out of control, so it doesn’t make sense to treat all brain cancers and say liver cancers as seperate groups based solely on where they occur. But to track the differences and the similarities you need data. a lot of it. So enter Danny’s army of tens of thousands of doomed mice. (Skip to 34:45 to hear about the dead mice.)
Nature Megadata: The odd couple
Here are few tips, tricks and useful sites that I am finding helpful in learning Brazilian Portuguese. I’d be interested in hearing your suggestion too.
1. Self paced learning
a.Don’t if any one saw this article in the Guardian today (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/nov/09/learn-language-in-three-months) It promotes a scientifically proven way of learning vocabulary efficiently and a website that lets you do the same. http://www.memrise.com/
I’ve only started using it but it seems quite good.
b. Smartphone users can get software that does the same thing. On Android I use a flash card program called Wise Cards (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ch.tea.wisecards) which varies the items it tests you on according to how well you are learning them. The app costs a few pounds but then lets you link to websites that have loads of sets of vocab cards (the Quizlet site seems best Top 1-500 Words Portuguese is good as is Portuguese Irregular Verbs.)
I’ve used this program a lot for learning Dutch and now Portuguese. It is a brilliant tool to let you learn on the go. If anyone wants me to, i can demonstrate it on my phone and show you how to get it working.
2. Language Immersion for Google Chrome.
If you use Google Chrome and want to sprinkle a bit of Portuguese through your regular web browsing I recommend this extension
Install it, select your chosen second lanuage and your current level of expertise. Then for every site you visit it will use google translate to change some of the words into portuguese. this way you are learning whenever you are reading online. If you don’t know the word you can click on a word or phrase shows you the original English.
Video explanation here.
3. Google translate.
Hopefully everybody has already found this
4. Subtitles for music and tv
Like Jana said, listening to songs is a great way to learn a language This site is a good place to go.
It has loads of Brazilian music videos, all with a full set of lyrics and most with subtitles.
Meanwhile, if you watch a lot of downloaded tv or fims. Why not add some Brazilan Portuguese subtitles? This site is very handy for finding subtitles for american TV series.
5 Soap Operas.
How about getting hooked on Brazilian soap operas? I’ve started watching the recent hugely popular Avenida Brasil. The country virtually ground ot a halt when the last episode aired in October. I don’t understand much of what is said but it’s so melodramatic that you usually guess what they mean even if you don’t know what they are saying. It’s very entertaining and exposes you to real Brazilian Portuguese.
You can find all 90 episodes online here