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Monday, 21 November 2011

The Four Horsemen Cometh?

We increasingly behave like lemmings running towards that cliff edge. The question is when will we reach it? 2012, 2013?

In Europe there are no signs of solving the Euro crisis. In the USA the congressional committee tasked with getting bipartisan support for huge spending cuts has totally failed to come up with anything. The indebtedness of the UK has risen to 492% of GDP, according to new research.  World CO2 emissions were higher still last year and the rate of increase is accelerating.  When ARE we all going to wake up and realise all this is not a computer game, but for real?

Somehow  as individuals and nations we've lost our way and got our values all wrong. Maybe this is the big wake-up call we need to change our behaviours, individually and nationally, to sustainable and better ones. I can't see it happening without a lot of pain though. Rarely before have we needed innovative and creative thinkers, strong communities, and human kindness and generosity so much.

The alternatives are too frightening to contemplate: mass unemployment, resource shortages, poverty, civil unrest, lurches to the far left or far right leading to violent revolution on a scale not seen for nearly 100 years. And on top of that we have a planet that is being cooked.

Sometimes it seems the Book of Revelation was right and those Four Horsemen really are riding towards us. If this reads like a tract for the Jehovah's Witnesses then please forgive me. I am a rational person but the portends for humankind are not good unless we change and change fast. It is up to us. No-one else is going to save us.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Time travel in quantum universes?

Although not a particle physicist I am fascinated by the news that CERN scientists have repeated their recent neutrino experiment and yet again confirmed that neutrinos seem to be travelling faster than light, despite theory saying this is impossible. This work may still be in error and the results may yet prove false. More tests are being carried out at other research centres over a longer timescale to see if the results hold up.

If true however, it raises all sorts of questions about the nature of space-time and our ability to move about in its many dimensions. Will we, one day, be able to look into the past and future? Maybe not in a way that allows us to interact, but simply look at who are ancestors were and our descendents will be.

Theories will have to be re-written and who knows where this will take us.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Website design - Cambridgeshire Choral Society

My wife sings in a local choir called the Cambridgeshire Choral Society. They have had a website for some years but it had not been regularly maintained, so I was asked to create a new one. This I have just done using Google Sites. Although I am no website expert, Google Sites allows quite a credible website to be created without knowledge of HTML coding. I am quite pleased with the result and hope it encourages a few more people to attend the concerts and join the choir.

Their next major concert is in Ely Cathedral in March 2012 when they will be singing Elgar's famous "Dream of Gerontius" which is a wonderful choral work. They are also singing Britten's "St Nicolas" in late January 2012.

Eye contact (or lack of it)

Have you noticed how people avoid eye contact in the streets these days? Years ago one could walk down the street in any village, town or city in the UK and be sure of saying "good morning" or whatever to anyone walking the other way. Nowadays this is increasingly hard as people seem to want to avoid eye contact. This is less so with older people, who still say a cheery "hello", but with younger people (locked into their iPods and MP3 players) it is increasingly difficult to engage in the social niceties we all took for granted. I find this very sad.

As an experiment, the next time YOU walk down a street see how many people you can make eye contact with and say something like "good morning" or similar. It is not so bad in my own village but I am convinced people are now more "in their own worlds" than even 10 years ago.

I tried this experiment in Stoke Newington, N.London a  few months ago. In walking for 15 minutes in leafy residential roads I managed to get just one grunt from a very surprised Hasidic Jew and one friendly response from an Afro-caribbean man. Everyone else was too busy to notice or just preferred to keep their privacy.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Last summer my wife and I enjoyed a 10 day holiday traveling around Iceland by car. We had expected a rather barren country with lots of lava and little vegetation and were pleasantly surprised by just how incredibly beautiful the country was. Everywhere below mountain level was green and the wild flowers were in bloom everywhere. Wild lupins were the most common flower seen growing wild all over the place. Of course there were glaciers, volcanoes and hot springs but the overwhelming impression was of a spectacularly wonderful and very beautiful country. There were also a lot more trees than we expected.

The people of Iceland were incredibly warm and welcoming and we enjoyed the holiday immensely. It is on a par with New Zealand for beauty.

One surprise when we were there was a chance visit to a little church in north Iceland one evening where we saw an Icelandic male quartet sing. The group is called Út í vorið. They were incredible and the music probably as good as any male quartet we have ever heard. We immediately bought one of their CDs and a few weeks later we wrote to them to get the others they have recorded.Like all Icelandic churches it was warm and cosy, heated by geothermal energy.

Iceland suffered in the financial crisis of 2008 but chose to declare themselves bankrupt rather than seek bailouts and help. In effect they said, "stuff the bankers", and I have some sympathy with this attitude and approach. The policy seems to be working: they have good natural resources (free geothermal electricity), plentiful fishing, aluminum reserves, wool, a healthy tourist industry now the exchange rate is better and a hardworking people keen to rebuild their economy. I wish these good people well.

For more information on Iceland I can recommend Iceland Review online.

I wish the Icelanders all the very best and hope to return to their fine country before too long.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Nuclear Fusion

For over 50 years researchers have been struggling to make the dream of relatively clean, nuclear fusion energy generation a reality. It has been a long and uphill struggle and at times the chances of succeeding seemed low: there were just too many technical problems to overcome. At long last there are some hopeful signs that the technological breakthroughs are almost there. Even if sustained nuclear fusion is achieved soon in research environments, it will be many years before this translates into commercial scale nuclear fusion plants. Nonetheless I am very hopeful that within my lifetime we may see the first nuclear fusion test reactors built and commercial reactors in place within 30-40 years. The changes to the world's energy situation as a result of this will be immense: raw materials needed are plentiful and inexpensive, radioactive waste will be negligible and immense amounts of low cost energy should be possible.  Let us hope that we all invest in the research and commercialisation of nuclear fusion rather than waste resources on trying to extract the last fossil fuels from the ground.

The future of Europe and the west - downhill?

There was an excellent article in The Times today by Matthew Parris entitled, "Face it. There is no answer to the eurocrisis". I'd like to link to it but don't subscribe to the Times app yet.  In summary, his thesis is that we have now past the best times in the west and our only route is downhill. We are kidding ourselves about our current fate by evasion.

We are kidding ourselves that the problems were created by the bankers whereas it is fundamentally down to our excesses in the last 50 years or more.  We elected our politicians. We allowed a system that rewarded bankers huge bonuses and allowed them to gamble our money for their gain. We could have seen the writing on the wall, but we chose to ignore it. We were all aware we were living beyond our means on money that didn't exist, but we all believed the myth that growth was making the world better for everyone. Now our chickens have come home to roost and we'd better come to terms with the new age we now face.

My own view is this new age is also an opportunity: one in which sustainable living within our means and personal happiness will be more important than growth and the culture of excessive consumption.  Just maybe we'll get our values more in focus and see the last 100 years as an aberration. It is up to us.