Sunday, 29 January 2017

Bucket Lists

Is there a point to bucket lists? They seem to be lists of things to do before you die. Once you die though that list tends to evaporate with you.

January, being the start of a new year, it is the month of new year's resolutions and, I suspect, the formulating of new bucket lists - which like many (most?) resolutions will fall by the wayside.

A few years ago when I was in the Lake District, one could see lots of people walking up various fells and in so doing, ticking them off their list. So what? These are things one has done. They are of no relevance to anybody else. Unless one leaves something for others, what one does or did is pointless.

And yet, I have lists of my own (of sorts), so I should not sneer. Instead, I should offer a couple of relevant quotations that I have happened upon:

Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.
Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)

In which case, may your bucket overflow.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Blues Humour

Late one afternoon some years ago, I commented to a work colleague (I work in 'academia') that it said something about one's workplace when, at the end of the day, one goes home and relaxes by listening to the blues; a music at least orignally associated with repression and hardship.

That is not to say that the blues is all grim. There is humour but the two lyrics which immediately spring to my mind represent rather dark humour.

There is Seasick Steve's 'Started Out with Nothin' where the lyrics run:

I started out with nothing,
And I've still got most of it left.

and best of all, I think, is Albert King's 'Born Under A Bad Sign' where the lyrics run:

If it wasn't for bad luck,
I'd have no luck at all.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Epictetus - 22

From: The Golden Sayings of Epictetus (translated by Hastings Crossley) - from Project Gutenberg.

Remember that thou art an actor in a play, and of such sort as the Author chooses, whether long or short. If it be his good pleasure to assign thee the part of a beggar, a ruler, or a simple citizen, thine it is to play it fitly. For thy business is to act the part assigned thee, well: to choose it, is another's.

Lose no time in setting before you a certain stamp of character and behaviour both when by yourself and in company with others. Let silence be your general rule; or say only what is necessary and in few words. We shall, however, when occasion demands, enter into discourse sparingly. avoiding common topics as gladiators, horse-races, athletes; and the perpetual talk about food and drink. Above all avoid speaking of persons, either in way of praise or blame, or comparison.
If you can, win over the conversation of your company to what it should be by your own. But if you find yourself cut off without escape among strangers and aliens, be silent.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Diary Habit

I was reminded recently that I had completely forgotten about even the concept of a 'New Year's Resolutions': I have certainly not made any. I do not feel the need for them. If I need to start doing something, I am usually disciplined enough to get on and do it; I don't need special or specific occasions upon which to start even though, I must admit, specified starting times or dates can be useful.

With this year nearly two weeks old, some who have resolved to keep a diary may be floundering. It is not necessary an easy thing to do. So the following, from Arnold Bennett's The Diary Habit may offer some encouragement to persevere.


But beware of that word "writing." Just as some persons are nervous when entering a drawing-room (or even a restaurant!), so some persons are nervous when taking up a pen. All persons, as I have tried to show, are nervous about the psychological effects of the written word, but some persons - indeed many - are additionally nervous about the mere business of writing the word. They begin to hanker, with awe, after a mysterious ideal known as "correct style" They are actually under the delusion that writing is essentially different from talking - a secret trade process! - and they are not aware that he who says or thinks interesting things can write interesting things, and that he who can make himself understood in speech can make himself understood in writing - if he goes the right way to work!

I have known people, especially the young, who could discourse on themselves in the most attractive manner for hours, and yet who simply could not discover in their heads sufficient material for a short letter. They would bemoan: "I can't think of anything to say." It was true. And, of course, they could not think of anything to say, the reason being that they were trying to think of something to write, and very wrongly assuming that writing is necessarily different from saying! Writing may be different from saying, but it need not be different, and for the diarist it should not be different. And, above all, it should not be superficially different. The inexperienced, when they use ink, have a pestilent notion that saying has to be translated or transmogrified into writing. They conceive an idea in spoken words, and then they subconsciously or consciously ask themselves: "I should say it like that - but how ought I to write it?" They alter the forms of their sentences. They worry about grammar and phrase-construction and even spelling. As for grammar and spelling, in the greatest age of English literature neither subject was understood, and no writer could be trusted either in spelling or in grammar. To this day very few writers of genius are to be trusted either in spelling or in grammar. As for phrase-construction, the phrase that comes to your tongue is more likely to be well constructed than the phrase which you bring forcibly into being at the point of your pen. If you know enough grammar to talk comprehensively, you know enough to write comprehensibly, and you need not trouble about anything else; in fact, you ought not to do so, and you must not.

Formality in a diary is a mistake. Write as you think, as you speak, and it may be given to you to produce literature. But if while you are writing you remember that there is such a thing as literature, you will assuredly never produce literature.

This does not mean that you are entitled to write anyhow, without thought and without effort. Not a bit. Good diaries are not achieved thus. Although you may and should ignore the preoccupations of what I will call, sarcastically, "literary composition," you must have always before you the ideal of effectively getting your thought on to the paper. You would, sooner or later, say your thought effectively, but in writing it down some travail is needed to imagine what the perhaps unstudied spoken words would be. And also, the memory must be fully and honestly exercised to recall the scene or the incident described. By carelessness you run the risk of "leaving out the interesting part." By being conscientious you ensure that the maximum of interest is attained.

Lastly, it is necessary to conquer the human objection to hard labour of any sort. It is not a paradox to assert that man often dislikes the work which he likes. For myself, every day anew, I hate to start work. You may end your day with the full knowledge that you have had experiences that day worthy to go into the diary, which experiences remain in your mind obstinately. And yet you hate to open the diary, and even when you have opened it you hate to put your back into the business of writing. You are tempted to write without reflection, without order, and too briefly. To resist the temptation to be slack and casual and second-rate involves constant effort. Diary-keeping should be a pastime, but properly done it is also a task - like many other pastimes. I have kept a diary for over twenty-one years, and I know a little about it. I know more than a little about the remorse  - alas, futile! - which follows negligence. In diary-keeping negligence cannot be repaired. That which is gone is gone beyond return.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Nineteenth Century Rabbit Stomach

Unlike some of my academic colleagues - who advocate reading only scientific literature that has been published within the last five years - I have been reading work from much further back. The detail and explanations may now seem rather outdated but the questions asked and the way in which those questions were asked is still very much valid. Indeed, some of the questions (and their possible answers) have fallen out of fashion without a conclusive answer being reached. While reading Rudolf Virchow's 'Cellular Pathology' (English trans. 1860) (originally published as 'Die Cellularpathologie in ihrer Begr√ľndung auf physiologische und pathologische Gewebelehre' in 1858), I happened upon the following illustration (Fig. 30 on p105) which fascinated my interest in straight lines and right angles.

The caption reads:
'Injected preparation from the muscular coat of the stomach of a rabbit magnified 11 diameters.'
I had not expected this appearance; it looks more like a micrograph of muslin than muscle or associated blood vessels. It was interesting that the magnification was described in terms of being '11 diameters'. I assume this to be the same as the '11x' (11 times) we use today.