Saturday, 29 December 2012

Building St Paul's Cathedral

One day during it's construction, Sir Christopher Wren was walking around St Paul's Cathedral. He stopped to speak to a stonemason and asked him what he was doing. In a rather matter of fact way he said, 'Oh, I'm just craving this stone'. Later, Wren stopped again. This time it was to speak to a carpenter. He asked him what he was doing. He too answered in a rather matter of fact sort of way saying, 'Oh, I'm just carving this piece of wood'. Still later Wren stopped to speak to a young boy who was sweeping the floor. Wren asked him what he was doing. 'I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren build St Paul's Cathedral', he said enthusiastically.

This is somewhat reminiscent of one of the Apollo astronauts I once heard interviewed. He said that he didn't know how it 'all worked' but that he knew his role and that it wasn't all going to be messed up on his account. Perhaps the whole of life is like that and that the whole edifice is affected by even the most humble of contributors. Rather like the butterfly effect perhaps but with real people rather than the inanimate objects with which we usually associate that effect.

It is always said that Sir Christopher Wren built St Paul's Cathedral but what does 'built' really mean? He did no carving so far as I know and I'm sure he did no sweeping. I remember seeing a television programme about the redevelopment of St Pancras railway station - a station I often used to walk through on the way home when I was a boy. When the station had its official reopening, I was surprised to see that at the ceremony the man who had had all the hard work of organising the day-to-day work was seated downstairs, somewhat out of the way of the proceedings, whereas the people who had drawn the plans were seated upstairs with all the dignitaries.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Happy Christmas

I heard this song a couple of years ago. I found then and continue to find each time I hear it something quite moving about. I don't know what it is; it just has some sort of effect upon me. You might reasonably call it a carol - a Christmas carol in particular - yet it has something else. It certainly has a modern feel but that isn't all. What do you think? Have a listen (and give it a like on YouTube too).


Monday, 17 December 2012


As a thinker, I can try to become famous and hope that my name will be remembered long after I am dead, or I can try, as part of my science, to probe deeper into the mind of God and trust that He alone will remember me.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Different angles on the Klein Bottle

A Klein bottle, although appearing bottle-shaped, is an object with a single surface that can take many forms. It gets its name from the man who devised it - Felix Klein (1849-1925) - and from a mis-translation of it's original name. Instead of a Kleinsche Fläche ("Klein surface"), it was called a Kleinsche Flasche ("Klein bottle").

While searching the web for different sized corks, I came across the following picture on the 'ways to mount a Klein bottle' page at

This is not the only way in which a Klein bottle can be 'mounted' - that is, orientated and held up. However, it is the one I somehow find most appealing. (Perhaps the Oxford English Dictionary in the background adds something to the bottle in the foreground.)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


It should be EveryBook's (or, if you prefer, every book's) ambition - in so far as a book can be said to have an 'ambition' - not only to be read but to be re-read, and re-read again and again until it falls to pieces.*

Similarly, it's ambition should also be for it's readers to disobey the copyright notice and to be scanned, copied and disseminated as widely as possible.


* For example, when I lived in South Wales, I once heard of a man who always got a Bible for Christmas.The reason being that by the time Christmas came around each year, he had worn out the one he had got the previous Christmas though over use.

 I once wrote a book which, when it was out of print, was sought out by somebody who then wrote to me saying how much he enjoyed it and how he had photocopied it in it's entirety. I didn't mind a bit. Had it still been in print, I still don't think that I would have minded - even though I would have missed out on a 27p royalty.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Separated at Birth

It is sometimes said that two people who look very much alike must have been twins 'separated at birth'. Here are two such individuals:

The French philosopher Jacques Deridda ...

... and from the film 'This Island Earth', Mr Exeter (played by actor Jeff Morrow in heavy makeup):

Or, should that be the other way around!?

Friday, 23 November 2012

Having a Laugh on the London Underground

A lot of people like trains. While there are many avid trainspotters, I never considered myself to be one. Instead, I have always been a London Underground buff. So when my daughter sent me this link recently, I was immediately enthralled. Some people have - or perhaps someone (a veritable Underground Banksy) has - been altering the maps and other signs on the London Underground in quite amusing ways - as you can see above. I found some tumblr and Facebook pages for 'Stickers on the Central Line' and Google searches for this phrase yields numerous results.

This appears to have been going on since my birthday last year (27th April 2011) although, sadly, it wasn't my idea and I have nothing to do with it. I consider whoever is doing it to be contributing positively to underground travel and long may they continue to do it - and evade detection.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Sunday, 11 November 2012

John Henry Newman

I came across the following from John Henry Newman (1801-1890) sometime ago. It forms part of a larger series of meditations on Christian doctrine that can be found at ''.

"God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling."

Monday, 5 November 2012

In what world are we?

In the world of the blind, it is said, the one eyed man is king.
But in the world of the insane, the sane man is the outcast.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Sticks and Stones

I was watching a boxing match on television. During the break between rounds the cameras got close up into one of the boxer's corners. He was heard to use some rather strong language - to put it mildly. The commentator then apologised for what the viewers may have overheard. It was clearly not his fault. What rather struck me was the fact that while there were two men doing each other physical damage in public this was less important than the fact that there was some bad language overheard. Sticks and stones - and punches - may hurt my bones but strong language does, it seems, greater harm.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Nixie Pixel

Geeks, Linux users and the like may well have come across Nixie Pixel. Clearly not her real name - which I don't know. I subscribe to her YouTube channel Nixie Does Linux which gives a weekly Linux-related topic. Here is an interesting image taken from her personal site - a reading system that she equates with a Kindle.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

I don't understand this world sometimes

I was sitting in my office on Monday afternoon when the lights which I keep dimmed suddenly became brighter. I looked around and two men had entered - seemingly without knocking (I certainly hadn't heard them) - and had turned up the dimmer (again, without so much as a by your leave). When I asked what they were doing they told me that they were going around the building counting and numbering the lights. They then proceeded to put stickers on each of the light fittings. Whatismore, they were external contractors who had been brought in to perform the task presumably at some expense to the institution.

Either because I was busy doing something else or because of the bazaar nature of their task, or perhaps both, I failed to ask why the lights needed to be counted and numbered. Now I am left wondering. This tend is something of a cathartic blog.

What possible reason can there be to do such a thing? This is in a building where they have just painted the firedoors (giving this an air of importance) and there is a sign extolling the building's energy efficiency; yet the main doors have been jammed wide open for over a year causing an updraft (extremely dangerous I would have thought when a 6-7 storey building catches fire) and an icy blast chilling the place in winter and causing us to turn up the heating. One wonders what is the point of such a seemingly trivial exercise. (I say 'seemingly trivial' because somebody is sure to be able to give some 'rational' explanation as to why it was, in fact, important if not vital.)

Thursday, 11 October 2012


I came across this picture a couple of years ago.The site now seems to have closed and I can't remember the full details of what it was advocating. I think it may have been something relating to genetically engineered foods - hence the 'GE'. The use of this image came from, I believe, a feminist perspective. There is nothing explicit or provocative about this image - rather it shows a woman being used purely for what her body produces. The aim, it appears, is for this image to raise the question of whether we should use animals in the way that we do given that we would not use a woman this way.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

My schedule is mistaken

Having decided on a new blogging schedule, I have gone and got the dates wrong.

I could go into various reasons for this but what does it matter.

Instead of one blog on 5th October, there was one on 1st October and now this one in the early hours of 6th October - just before I go to bed at the end of the previous day. So, in a sense I am (almost) on schedule. Strange that somebody such as myself, who claims to hate working under rigid structures, should impose a structure upon himself. Or, is it a desire for good personal discipline in an attempt at aiding productivity?

One could think of this week there hasbeen two blogs instead of one; although this one is pretty worthless, except that it illustrates that my organisation needs to be - and when I finish typing this will be - improved. The way to do that will be by making an advanced note in my old fashioned paper diary. Although this diary is kept to make retrospective notes about what I have been doing, marking blogging days so that they can be seen in advance won't hurt.

So until 11th October ...

Monday, 1 October 2012

My Favourite Anatomist

Although I know relatively little about him, my favourite anatomist has got to be Philip Verheyen (1648-1711). It was he who named the Achilles tendon. A careful look at the picture below will reveal that the leg being dissected on the table is a left leg and that Verheyen has only one (right) leg under the table. Verheyen named the tendon in 1693 after having dissected his own amputated leg which was removed some years before as a result of a potentially life-threatening infection. (It was not named in antiquity after Achilles as is sometimes assumed.)

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Something's Missing

A cursory glance and all one sees is an attractive middle-aged woman in a bikini enjoying a swim. One might not even notice it without the indelicacy of looking more closely at her body but this woman has no belly button! Her name is Patricia Heaton and from what I can gather from the internet, she has had a 'tummy-tuck'. Although why she would want one that removes her belly-button I don't know. After all, it rather draws attention to the fact that she has had some sort of surgical procedure - they don't disappear spontaneously. So its absence is sure to set people talking. Then again, perhaps that's what people in show business want. Many have done more extreme things to their bodies precisely for that purpose.

However, it gets me thinking of something quite different: Eve. Did Eve - from the Garden of Eden story - have a belly button? She was not born but created from Adam's rib. Neither she nor Adam were born in the usual way - neither grew in utero and so neither were connected to a placenta via an umbilical cord. Therefore, no belly button.

This may seem a rather trivial point to raise but it has been a contentious topic in the creation debate. It has even given rise to something called the omphalos hypothesis. (Omphalos being Greek for 'belly button'.) If Adam and Eve had belly buttons then they had to be created with them. If created with them then they were created with a false history. However, that would, in effect, make God a deceiver. That is simply not on as that goes against at least one of the basic qualities of being God: being truthful. Apparently, there are creationists that believe that Adam and Eve had no belly buttons and that the trees in the Garden of Eden had no growth rings! These people hold to a doctrine called omphalism which holds that the universe was created with apparent history.

And yet the belly button is such an insignificant thing - until that is, it isn't there.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Where did all the bird's come from?

On the way to work one morning, I walked under the roundabout as usual and was confronted by a host of origami birds laid out on the floor. This certainly made a change from the stranded pigeon that one sometimes finds down there.

I wondered if it was part of an art project or something. (I was once stopped by a man in town who asked me to take his photo. He was stopping 100 people and getting each of them to do this as part of an art project.) So, I looked for a sign saying why the birds were there but there wasn't one. All I could do was take some photos.

What was interesting was other people's reactions. I stopped for a couple of minutes and looked at this presumed installation from different angles. I was also careful not to tread on any. Other people just took no notice. Admittedly, they didn't kick them about - at least not while I was there. However, they were much more disorganised in the evening when I went home and they were gone the next day.

(I also wondered if this might be part of a psychology experiment into people's reactions to unexpected objects. I looked for somebody with a clipboard making observations but couldn't see anybody.)

Monday, 17 September 2012

BarCode - 10

Here's another barcode saying 'Marginalia55'. This is a Dutch Post KIX. I've seen similar things stuck to letters in the UK. Next time I do, I must carefully compare the two.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Removing a monarchy

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many of the world's monarchies were removed. By "the world's", one is essentially meaning "Europe's". That is where most of the highly sophisticated monarchies seem to have been located. Now relatively few are left; continually and carefully changing so as to remain in place.

The way monarchs were previously deposed was somewhat blood-thirsty. One would hope that such an approach would not be adopted in future. So how might one get rid of a monarchy humanely and permanently?

One way would be to hold a referendum each time a monarch dies, not on whether to continue with a monarchy but on whether to accept the incoming heir to the throne as the next sovereign. If the will of the people is to accept this person so be it. If the will of the people is not to accept this person then the monarchy should be held in abeyance and an interim presidency held until the unwanted heir dies. At that point, it should be put to the people whether they are willing to accept the next heir to the throne as monarch. If it is their will, so be it; if not, the period of interim presidency continues. This might be allowed to go on for up to three successions perhaps. If three heirs are rejected by the people then the monarchy might then be deemed to have been abolished.

This offers a gradual transition from monarchy to presidency allowing people the opportunity to sample what a presidency is like and to change their minds when a potential monarch becomes available. It also allows people an opportunity to make their feelings about an heir to the throne felt. The current like-it or lump-it approach is surely outdated in an age when people should be exercising their own freewill.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Funny Photos

One of the best collections of funny pictures that I have come across on the web can be found at George Takai's Facebook page.

Check it out. Beware: You could be there for a long time and may even hurt yourself laughing.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


I have adopted a new blogging schedule. I now blog on the 5th, 11th, 17th, 23rd and 29th days of the month. This marks the end of the first month after its adoption. I previously tended to use a system based on primes - although I also included the number 27. (I just like the number 27 for various reasons - not least it being my birth date.) The numbers I have now adopted are all primes - the Sexy Primes (see the video below). I think that this makes blogging days slightly more evenly spaced throughout the month (although I have not bothered to check) a quick glance shows that only when months have 30 days is the evenness perfect. A second glance seems to suggest that each week the blogging day is one day earlier than the week before. Obvious really because this is based on a six day cycle. However, there is differential month length to consider. So, I shall have to return to this.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

National Anthems

Every time an athlete wins a gold medal at the Olympic Games, the national anthem of their country is played. Those you win silver and bronze are not afforded this honour, although their national flag is raised flanking that of the winner. Although the gold medallist may sing along - or try to if they are in tears - it is only the tune that is played. We tend to overlook the fact that national anthems usually have words.

I was wondering about the words of the North Korean national anthem. Given that country's reputation for what looks to the West as mind-control, one might have expected the words of their national anthem to extol the almost god-like qualities of their leader. Not so. Along with the words of the national anthems of other countries that I have been reading, the North Korean national anthem is about the land and the people. It is an understandably patriotic song.

Surprisingly (perhaps) the most 'North Korean' national anthem (in the 'focusing-on-the-leader' sense) appears to be the British national anthem. It does not extol the land, the people or anything about the nation as such. Instead, it is a prayer asking for blessings on the monarch. The only rather oblique and dubious reference to the people of Britain comes in the line were the prayer asks that the monarch be allowed 'long to reign over us'.

Interestingly, after all the effort the British athletes put into getting to and competing at the London 2012 Olympics Games and after all the emotion the crowd and viewers expended as they watched these athletes take part, each time they won they played a tune and sang a song seeking blessings on their monarch rather than on themselves as a nation.

(Furthermore, being British is more complex thing than most British people - or people that think that they are British - actually realise. There is, in fact, a difference between being a British citizenship and British subject.)

Friday, 17 August 2012

Father and Son - 2

In July 2010 showed an image of a sculpture I saw in Tartu, Estonia in August 2008. I also said that I was well acquainted with scientific diagrams which scale infants and adults to the same height (in order to demonstrate how body proportions change with age). This is a less frequently found image. It again scales adult and child to the same height but this time internal structure are also seen. Note how they are not in the same proportions.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

How big is Wikipedia?

The thing I would most miss if it ceased to be a presence on the internet is Wikipedia (not a link to Wikipedia's front page).  I typically consult it several times a day on all sorts of topics, serious and trivial. When I was a boy, the biggest printed books were sets of encyclopedias. They came in several volumes with the topics arranged alphabetically. So quite diverse topics could be found next to each other. I seem to remember that we had two different sets of encyclopedias at my primary school. Strangely, they were rarely consulted. They were not in the school library – we did not have one. Neither were they in a classroom. One might have expected one set in each of the top two classes for the older children to consult, perhaps but no. Rather they were on display on a purpose-built stand at each end of the junior school corridor.
I first came across Wikipedia in 2005 when I was working in Austria. It started in 2001 and somehow I had missed it for it's first four years. I cannot remember how I discovered it. It may have been through an American colleague. I have never heard anybody ask how big it is though. I have read about iPhone apps that can download an entire copy for offline use, so one could say that Wikipedia is as big as an iPhone – or as small as an iPod. More seriously though, what would it be like if it were printed and bound in hardback volumes like those of my youth?

Fortunately, some people – clearly out of range of my hearing – have asked the same question and have made some estimations. Fittingly, there are even Wikipedia pages on the subject.

The current diagram of the 1695 volumes in 9 stacks can be found at: Wikipedia – Size in volumes.

The image is not downloadable but here is a screen clipping from the page, much reduced in size.

There are, of course, a number of assumptions and caveats, so please see:
Wikipedia – Size Comparisons

Importantly, Wikipedia does not delete old versions of a page. So, there is much more to it than is immediately accessible. The diagram for the 7129 volumes in 36 stacks can be found at: Size of all Wikipedia versions. Be sure to scroll all the way to the right.

NB It is interesting, how they are filling the shelves from the bottom to the top in this figure.

I came across the following at digital inspiration on the page entitled 'Wikipedia as a Printed Book – Seriously!' This is a 5000 page book which was taken in turn from the person who produced it: Rob Matthews.
Sally 6/5/9 117 Sally 6/5/9 126
Matthews does not really give much description. It appears to be a collection of featured articles rather than the whole of Wikipedia. It is very interesting nonetheless.

Another question - one that is impossible to answer in that it is not reasonable to ask it - is when will Wikipedia be full? Computer storage can be increased indefinitely and there will always be something new to add. However, the rate of new article additions seems to be slowing. Is there an asymptote for the number of (sensible) articles that can be written?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Not a Barcode

This is not a barcode but it is inspired by the idea I have been adopting: that of turning the name 'Marginalia55' into some other form. (What I am now referring to as a 'Manipulation55' in the blog labels.)  Here is the name of this blog as an equation.
It was generated at Sam Alexander's Inverse Graphing Calculator page.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympic Flame - yet again.

I'm not obsessed by the Olympic flame, torch or whatever. I'm not that fused by the Olympics per se - although I look forward to being able to see certain athletic events. However, since the flame is going to be lit in the Olympic stadium today and since I have been blogging recently (29th May and 17th June) about the flame going out and about what counts as the continuity of a flame, here are a couple of videos I happened upon.

It appears that the Olympic flame has gone out at least once while it has been in this country ... and, as you will see, to much consternation - almost, one might say, panic.

What I did not realise was that it went out almost as soon as it was first lit back in Greece earlier this year. (Only an expression of 'mild panic' then though.)

With that - let the games commence. (Surely, I've nothing more to say on the subject. At least, I hope I haven't - but who know what the next couple of weeks may bring. Who would have though that people could get so upset by flags.)

Monday, 23 July 2012

Who is Exploiting (or being Exploited by) Whom?

The question of the exploitation of women, particularly in the media, is raised from time to time. Is the way in which they are portrayed degrading? This question sometimes goes hand-in-hand with that of 'who is exploiting whom?' (Or, as I have put it here 'Who is Exploiting (or being Exploited by) Whom?') Are men manipulating women for their own ends or is it really the women who are manipulating men for their own ends? While there are some clear and undeniable cases of exploitation, the question is not always simple and can, in certain cases, seem intractable. For example, in the so-called 'Feminist Sex Wars', carefully considered but opposing views on pornography were contested in equal measure.
If those 'exploiting' and those being 'exploited' have different but complementary objectives (albeit unconscious), it is not simply a question of members of one sex exploiting or being exploited by the other. If there are men who want women to look at and there are women who want to be looked at, surely both are using (call it exploiting and being exploited, if you wish) the other simultaneously for their own personal ends.
Dolly Parton once said that 'it takes a lot of money to look this cheap'. Certainly a great deal of effort can be expended trying to attract the attention of others. (Not to mention a lot of money on cameras to make a record that attention!) Consider the picture of Annie Sprinkle (below) that I used in a talk I once gave at the University of Cambridge in 2003. She certainly calls into question the simplicity of the exploiter/exploited question.
(NB I wrote this a few weeks ago, but noticed that 23rd July is Annie Sprinkle's birthday. So, I left posting this until today for no other reason than it would coincide.)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Apostrophe Crime

Apostrophe crime (essentially any misuse of the apostrophe) is quite common. What is more, it is a fiendishly insidious thing. Those who know how to use apostrophes correctly can easily spot the crime whereas those who do not know how to use apostrophes correctly cannot and do not even realise that it is occurring. One way of making it more widely known may be to draw attention to it humorously.

Apostrophe Crime

Friday, 13 July 2012



Sometimes there is nothing worth saying but people talk anyway. Sometimes there are things worth hearing but nobody listens.

Found while tidying my iPod

Some thoughts (which may or may not mean anything) from a variety of sources:

  • The child is to the adult as the philosopher is to the mind of God.
  • We fit ourselves to the hours of the day. Instead, we should fit the hours of the day to ourselves.
  • One needs time for those happy accidents (and inspirations) to occur.
  • "The idea of the uncompromising thinker who follows his [own] genius caring nothing for the approval of the world seems, perhaps, just a romantic fantasy. But is it just possible that the new idealist of our own age is out there perfecting a comprehensive system raging in the dark? Maybe it is you. Maybe you're out there my doppelgänger. Take your time". (Transcribed from the Radio 4 programme 'The Romantic Road'.)
  • "A snail is God's word in the shape of a shell." (Gregory Normington on Radio 3's 'The Verb'.)
  • "Blessed be the inquisitive of the Lord." (Gregory Normington on Radio 3's 'The Verb'.)
  • HBK FiNN has a CD entitled 'Light in the Shade of Darkness'. (This struck me as an interesting title. What is also interesting is the way in which he often uses capital letters, except when it comes to the letter 'i'. So it's 'LiGHT iN THE SHADE OF DARKNESS'.)
  • Dyslexia as social and existential alienation. (I'm dyslexic and I don't know what this might mean. I include it because it is intriguing.)

Monday, 9 July 2012

Another BarCode - 9

This is a 'Data Matrix (ISO 16022)'.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

((Still) Not Responding)

Upon reflection, I've realised that the guy who wrote the error message to which I previously referred was being rather astute. Although it is a Windows error message, it is not necessarily Windows that gets the blame. At least, not in some people's minds. The 'Not Responding' message comes up most often in the title bar next to the programme name. The message, in effect, implies that 'this programme is not responding' - which, I suppose, technically it is. The implication is that it is the programme that is at fault. Perhaps that programme is not quite good enough to be running perfectly under Windows. However, with so many different programmes from so many different software companies giving much the same message, it is unlikely that that is really the case. Rather, it is Windows that is causing these programmes not to respond; it is Windows' fault more than the programme itself.

The message should perhaps read: 'Windows is not allowing this programme to respond because it is doing something else and so preventing you from getting on with what you want to be doing'.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Euro 2012 Final: Sunday 1st July – War in Peace?

Today is the final of Euro 2012. Will Spain win or will it be Italy? As in the World Cup, teams representing different nations are pitted against each other. This is also the case for other team sports as will be seen during the Olympic Games in a few weeks. All manner of teams chosen chosen to represent countries. This, it seems, is a rather tribal – even primitive – approach to modern sport. What is it that perpetuates this type of inter-nation rivalry even during times of peace? Why is it that a nation has got to beat another at sport?

When I was a boy, I once read a newspaper report of a football match that had been played the night before between teams representing the English football league and the Scottish football league [See also]. Players of any nationality were selected to represent the league in which they played – not their country. In the history of this match, Scots have played for the English league against the Scottish league and vice versa. Not to mention those who have played who were neither English nor Scottish.

Sadly, this match is no longer played. I often wonder why more matches – even whole tournaments – are not played on this basis though. It is often said that the English Premier League is the best in the world. However, we have no way of knowing if this is true, unless the best players in that league – regardless of nationality – are chosen to play against players representing the best in other leagues. (What we do know for sure is that, irrespective of whether the English Premier League is the best in the world or not, the English national team is nowhere near the best in the world.)

Pitting league against league does not have the nationalistic or jingoistic overtones that arise when nation plays against nation. This would be more in keeping with peace than war. We cannot tell for sure how the supporters would behave but I suspect that there would be fewer grounds for violence, hooliganism or racism when nationalistic feelings are excluded.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Not to be confused

I have never been to either, so I don't know if this is true or not but I understand that Uttoxeter and utopia should not be confused.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Power to the People

I heard recently that moderate Egyptians were rather put out when the Presidential run-off was held between two quite immoderate candidates. In the first round of voting, the moderate vote had been split between a number of moderate candidates allowing the more extreme candidates to get through. The moderate voice was silenced by the very democratic process it sought to foster.

One of the problems with choosing between candidates using a voting system is that of what to do when you like none of the candidates. You have to vote for one or other of the candidates or not at all. In some places, voting is compulsory which only adds to one's problems. So far as I am aware, there is no third way advocated.

The typical view is that either one's vote counts (in that it is used to vote for one of the candidates) or it is wasted. There are currently two ways of wasting a vote: by spoiling one's ballot paper or by not voting. The latter is certainly a waste: one does not turn up; one does not use the opportunity to vote at all. A spoilt ballot paper is considered to be wasted but it is not wasted in the same way. One does turn up; one does make one's voice heard - or perhaps that should be 'make one's presence felt' - although in a quite different way. A spoilt ballot should not be seen as a wasted vote but as a form of democratic expression.

In countries, such as the UK, where electoral turnouts are very low, the spoilt ballot option should, I believe, be used to register discontent with the options available. If one feels disenfranchised due to the poor choice of candidates - or the political classes in general - one should make one's feelings felt. Spoiling one's ballot paper is such a way. It shows that one has bothered to turn up and made a choice: to deliberately not vote for any of the candidates.

In its logical extension, the spoilt ballot could even be used to determine whether an election should be considered to be ratifiable. With a low turn-out, the candidate with the most votes currently wins but this may be a hollow victory. Above a certain percentage of spoilt votes, an election might be considered to be null and void and a re-run necessary.

(I do not pretend to have solved any of the problems inherent in the democratic process - there are sure to be counter arguments. However, these are my musings as ever.)

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Olympic Flame(s)

I said (Tuesday 29th May) that I would return to the question of the Olympic torch. When the torch passed through my village, I overheard somebody saying how each of the flames kept in case the torch went out were the same. The question that immediately sprang to mind was 'How can a number of separate things be the same thing?'

Clearly they cannot. What the Olympic flame and the spares have in common is a certain continuity with what was kindled at Mount Olympus. That, for most people, is probably enough to warrant the idea of 'same-ness'.

There is more, though. This problem is rather like  Heraclitus' (c535–c475 BCE) problem of whether one can step into the same river twice. If water has flowed past, is it the same river? If it is not the same river, one cannot step into the same river twice.

A flame is like a river in as much as it has a source. Instead of water upstream, the flame is constantly being fed by a source of combustible material. Some might consider the flame to be the same if the combustible material feeding the flame is from a constant source. However, if a flame ignited in Greece (and fed Greek gas - if there is such a thing) comes to be fed in the UK with British/North Sea gas, then it is doubtful whether one can say that it is the same flame. For Heraclitus, even if the combustible material were the same he would not have been satisfied that the flame was always the same. What makes the flame at each instant in time is substantively different from what made it the instant before and what will make it the instant after.

The way I have seen the flame handled is somewhat reminiscent of how a culture of bacteria is handled. This prompts a new question: that of whether an epidemic can be considered as consisting of one single disease or whether there are different (albeit similar) forms of it due to different individual bacteria infecting different individuals.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Another Barcode - 8

 Code One

Time for another barcode. I'm surprised at how many different types there are. I'm certainly not even halfway through my collection, yet. Wikipedia gives quite a list.

This is a 'Code One'. As usual, it says 'Marginalia55'.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Laptop Art

Customising the lid of one's laptop is something that has yet to really take-off. It's not as popular as I would have thought it would have become. My daughter got a laptop a few years ago (when they came with Windows Vista installed!) which had a transparent lid under which one put any A4 sized image one liked. She kept to the same floral image all the time she had it. My wife now uses it – with the same image.  More recently, skins for laptops, iPhones, Kindles etc. have become available.
I suspect the situation is different for different types of computer user. The following two images (from Karin Andrea's Flickr photostream) are suggestive of a certain type of user i.e. a serious one (cf the Linux and GNU stickers). These images appeared different occasions on my iGoogle page. I have a gadget called Notebook Photos by GadgetMama which gives a different image of a notebook (computer and paper) each time I login.

LapTop1.0 LapTop1.1
© Karin Andrea. (Click for the source of the originals.)

Friday, 1 June 2012

More like Rubik's Stack

Here's another variation on the theme of Rubik's Cube found at Gizmodo: an Uneven Rubik's Cube.


There appear to be two variants, a 3x3x7 and a 3x3x9 are available from

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Has the Olympic torch gone out?

The Olympic torch came through my village this afternoon. The disruption to traffic was huge - as were the crowds. We have never seen so many people here before. Or so many police. I lost count of how many police motorcyclists came through. Not to mention other vehicles. It's not really for people who care about carbon footprints.

This is the best photograph I was able to get.

It looks like the flame has gone out though. Which brings to mind a conversation I overheard in the crowd earlier about the reserve flames that were being kept in Davy Lamp like devices. Somebody said that they were all the same flame - but are they? Four - I think it is - separate flames that are all the same! This prompts a number of thoughts. So ...

I shall return to this sometime in the future.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Some Quotes

Here are some quotes that I've had lying around for quite some time. They are of interest in and of themselves even if their veracity may be, at some times, questionable.


'Were I to hold the truth in my hand, I would let it go for the positive joy of seeking.'
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


'In our century, specialisation has become the counterfeit of brilliance.'
Richard Gordon
(I'm not sure which Richard Gordon said this but I would not be surprised if it were the author of the 'Doctor' series of books.)


'With computer technology, we now have the capacity, as Lewis Thomas (1989) put it, "to leap across mountains of information and land lightly on the wrong side".'
Collins (1999)
(I'm not sure who Collins is but the  Lewis Thomas in question was surely the famous biologist and writer.)


The following may or may not be a quote. It was one among a page of notes relating to the work of William Harvey (1578-1657). (Exactly how it is related, I'm not sure - it was a loose note after all! If it was not Harvey that said it, it may well have been me philosophizing and scribbling down my thoughts.)
'A finding – a piece of work etc. – may have limited value in its own right or its own time but be of disproportionate merit in the incentive it gives to the work that follows as a result of it.'

Friday, 18 May 2012

RIP Donna Summer

With the death of Donna Summer (1948-2012), like many, I am reminded of her music. For much of the morning, I have been listening to different versions of 'This Time I Know It's For Real' - my favourite of her songs. I particularly like the way at times her vocals come in before she has finished the previous line ("I'm going crazy just to let you know ...").

I am also reminded of what I blogged on 1st February 2011 (After we are gone). After we are gone, will it be said of us that we left more than we found - or left things better than we found them. Opinions may vary but somebody who got the world dancing - instead of fighting - leaves us better off.

Rest In Peace? I wonder. If to DIE is to Dance Into Eternity, bring it on.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

No Apology

I said in the blog immediately below that I would apologise if my 'sneaking feeling' that an error had crept into a colleague's notes proved to be unfounded. I asked him to clarify what was puzzling me. It transpires that he had made an error - of sorts. A reference to a now defunct idea had stayed in his notes. By way of an oversight, he had not deleted it.

Before I consulted him, I had asked a group of some 70 or so students if they knew anything about this. They did not - despite having reference to it in their lecture notes. Had they not read these notes or had they just memorised them taking what they said at face value without actually studying the topic?

All-in-all the whole affair has proved informative and seems to vindicate my approach: that lecture notes are what students take down in lectures - not what lecturers give in addition to (or, in the case of some students, instead of) lectures.

One cannot learn from notes, when they are the primary source of information. Notes are a distillation and an aide-mémoire to something much fuller; something about which one wants to be reminded in order to give a fuller picture. An edifice cannot be built using only a few straws of information.

Monday, 7 May 2012

University Teaching

A Facebook friend posted this some weeks ago. There is more than an element of truth in it - although my spouse is, of course, much more enlightened about the realities of modern university life.
I must say that, although I have entitled this entry 'University Teaching', I do not like the phrase. However, rather than change it, I will use this opportunity to write about something that is of perpetual concern to me.
I believe that one goes to university to learn, NOT to be taught. A lot of people have forgotten this - both staff and students. I cannot believe how nowadays, when students go to lectures, they also want the lecturer to supply notes by way of a synopsis of that same lecture! They sat there for an hour doing ... what? (Some, in fact, do just sit there ... for an hour.)
I recently asked some students about something I had seen in some lecture notes provided by a colleague. I was genuinely puzzled by what he had put because I had never heard of it before. Furthermore, I was genuinely interested in finding out more. The one student that knew what I was asking about - because she was, in fact, the only one to have actually looked at those notes - had only learned them off rote. When I asked her to tell me more (because I assumed that she had studied the topic), she could not. She had not, in fact, studied the topic, she had just memorised the notes accompanying a certain lecture.
As yet, I have found no reference to the thing that was puzzling me, anywhere. If it is real, then it should not be hard to find. Yet, I just cannot find anything about it anywhere. This leaves me wondering. However, I will keep searching. If I do solve this dilemma, perhaps I ought to devote a future entry to it by way of an apology for what I am about to say: at this moment in time, I have a sneaking feeling that an error may have crept into my colleague's notes unbeknown to him! (If so, then, so much for the value of lecture notes.)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday. So, ‘Happy Birthday to me!’

How old am I? Here’s a hint:


… No. I wasn’t born in 1869!

(If you have ever wondered why Heinz claim(ed) to have 57 varieties (when originally they had over 60), click the image to find out.)

Monday, 23 April 2012

Geek Joke

Q. Have you heard any good jokes about sodium, lately?

A. Na!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Where is God?

This is a perennial question – and not one that somebody writing a blog like this is going to answer. However, in relation to this question, here is something to think about. Eliezer Berkovits suggested (and this may be a quote) [that in order] ‘That Man may be, God must absent Himself. The God of history must be present and absent concurrently. He hides his presence.'

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A Modern Not-So-Mythological Creature

Half man, half desk: The Deskotaur.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Easter Saturday

Easter Saturday – or Holy Saturday – is the day when God was silent. In his book, God on Mute, Pete Greig writes:

"No one really talks about Holy Saturday, yet if we stop and think about it, it's where most of us live our lives. Holy Saturday is the no man's land between questions and answers, prayers uttered and miracles to come. It's where we wait – with a peculiar mixture of faith and despair – whenever God is silent or life doesn't make sense."

Peter Greig
God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer
Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications. 2007.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Thursday, 29 March 2012

21st March – has passed unnoticed

I only noticed it this morning when I saw the date on a letter but 21st March last week was a palindrome: (if written) 21-3-12. This has got me musing and what was going to be a very short observation and become much more extensive that originally expected.

It seems that we are fast running out of palindromic dates for this decade. At a rough – off the top of my head – estimate, for this year we have left, the 21st of  April (21-4-12), May (21-5-12), June (21-6-12), July (21-7-12), August (21-8-12), September (21-9-12) and November (21-11-12) and next year 31st of January (31-1-13), March (31-3-13), May (31-5-13), July (31-7-13) and August (31-8-13). Of these, 21-11-12, 31-1-13 and 31-3-13 seem quite pretty numbers as they use only two different digits.

After 2013, I don't think that the next palindromic date of this written form will not be until 2020: 2nd January 2020 (02-1-20) if 2 is written '02'. However, this seems somewhat artificial and a little too contrived for my liking. The next 'real' palindromic date is, therefore, 12th January 2021: 12-1-21. Following that, the situation is similar to this year with, this time, the 12th of February (12-2-21), March (12-3-21), April (12-4-21), May (12-5-21), June (12-6-21), July (12-7-21), August (12-8-21), September (12-9-21) and November (12-11-21). Of this 12-2-21 and 12-11-21 are perhaps the most appealing for the same reason I gave earlier. However, 12-3-21 has a particular sort of symmetry being the first three digits in ascending and descending order. Of the others, 12-4-21 has the middle digit as the product of all the others and 12-6-21 has the middle digit as the sum of all the others.

After that, we wait until 13-1-31 – when I hope to be 85 (going on 86) years old!

(By the way, 13-1-31 will be a Monday.)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Friday, 17 February 2012

(Not Responding)

I recently came across this story - about which I was reminded when Windows 7 started doing a load of background things that slowed everything up (again) just now. I don't know if it is true; it sounds, perhaps, a little too perfect but it does say something about an experience with which too many of us are familiar. Here it is anyway.
There was a man who, in his youth, professed a desire to become a great writer. When asked to define 'great,' he said, 'I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level. Stuff that will make them scream, cry, and howl in pain and anger.'
He now works at Microsoft, writing error messages.
If this story is true, given my experience of working on Windows, I'm sure he has a very busy, full time job. He is unlikely ever to be out of a job. He is the guy who penned (or typed) something most of us see in parentheses everyday: '(Not Responding)'.
NB Happily, I've recently had the pleasure of moving over to Linux for a lot of my work.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Another Barcode - 6

This is a 'Code 49' that says 'Marginalia55'.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Non-Thinker

I was searching the Web for an image that would represent philosophy. One image that came up was that of the statue 'The Thinker' (Le Penseur, 1902) by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). So, I did a search for images of The Thinker as well. I happened upon this cartoon of 'The Non-Thinker'. Poor fellow.

(Found at:

The 'Non-Thinker' probably represents a lot of people. Those I used to see on the train stuck in the repetitive commute to and from the office everyday. It is not necessarily their fault. They get into a rut without realising it. If and when they do realise their condition, it's too late. Socrates (fl. 5th Century BCE) said that 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. Perhaps, if more people took hed of the picture painted by W.H. Davies (1871-1940) in his poem Leisure (1911) they might take steps to rectify their plight.

Addendum 20th Jan 2017:
For much more on Rodin, visit the August Rodin page at Artsy.

Friday, 27 January 2012

More from the Moon

When blogging the 'Earth Shadow' image the other day, I was reminded of the following quote from the Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders: 'We thought the mission was to go and study the Moon but what we actually discovered was the Earth.' He was referring, at least in part, to the Earthrise image.


Monday, 23 January 2012

Earth Shadow


I've seen lunar eclipses on a number of occasions. The Moon never goes completely black and the darkening lasts a while. I found this composite picture at APOD that gives an impression of the size of the Earth's shadow on the Moon during lunar eclipses. It is much larger than I had previously realised.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Wanted – Dead and Live

The topic of a wanted poster featuring Schrödinger's cat came up in conversation the other day. So, I thought about making one. However, it struck me that somebody else must have done it already. I was not wrong. This is perhaps one of the best I found. It is taken from a blog called 'But I Digress'.


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Barcode - 5

Here is another barcode based upon the name of this blog. This time it is a 'Code 39 (ISO 16388)' barcode. If you want to find out more about this and other types of barcode, you could visit Neodynamic.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Some gloomy (or should that be sobering) thoughts

'They give birth astride a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.'

Waiting For Godot - Act II
Pozzo's last words as he and Lucky leave.

'We know little about what happens when someone dies. The moment of death is not accompanied by the cessation of all biological processes. Thankfully, so, for if it were there could be no hope of transplant surgery.'

Unattributed. (It might even have been me in a note to myself! I found this while going through some old papers during the Christmas break.)

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year

I don't really go in for New Year celebrations. Once, the night when 1980 turned into 1981, I was at my desk working. I heard some sounds outside and remembered that it was, of course, New Year's Eve - except that it wasn't any longer. It was 12.45 am and I had missed the moment when 1981 had begun. It was no great loss.

Nevertheless, here is a photo I came across during the last half hour of 2011 which seems poignant.