She’s A Beautiful Mutation

Journal Entry,  Dienstag 06 Sept ’11:
Yesterday morning I logged on to check the Telegraph website and found that the Google logo – normally just a series of colourful Times New Roman – had been replaced by a vivid purple geometric frenzy.
So I clicked on it, and it announced that “Today Freddie Mercury would have been 65 – Happy Birthday”, before launching into a charming & very witty cartoon sequence over the song ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’.
Today on the way home from work, saw my first ‘61’ plate vehicle; an upmarket Audi people-carrier.
Went to the pictures to see ‘Apollo 18’ which was utter, utter, UTTER shite as I so eloquently pointed out on Pigsy’s website.

Journal Entry, Sat 11 Apr ’87:
Rejection letter and returned photo from Pyrene Chemical Services.
“I dare not guess, but in this life of error, ignorance and strife
Where nothing is, but all things seem, and we the shadows of the dream” (Shelley)
Outside it is gloriously sunny – I am thinking of making an LP of Sitwell’s Metamorphoses for electronic ensemble and string quartet.
Went to Treasure Trove in Cotteridge – bought three books: ‘Hands’ by C G Norris, ‘Adventures of a Sailor Boy’ and a paperback of the Kama Sutra. (Note: I was convinced for many years that my copy of ‘Hands’ was actually from the Salvation Army charity shop in Nuneaton, purchased around 1975. But I was wrong….)

In his book ‘Sixty Seconds that will Change The World’, Peter Hadfield described the possible impact of an earthquake and tsunami on Japan. Massive events like this have been recorded at intervals of approximately eighty-three years; the last giant quake, in 1923, killed 140,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes and factories. Since then, however, Japan has fallen in love with technology and the automobile and chemical production and nuclear power; and the vast industrial empire was seen as being vulnerable to the effects of a major seismic event.
When the super-quake finally arrived in March 2011, it caused massive upheaval, damage to property and loss of life. It also caused a disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power station, with the reactor cores suffering meltdown.
And recent studies have shown that insect life in the vicinity of the stricken plant is showing signs of genetic mutation which could be linked to radioactive contamination from the Fukushima reactors. Specimens of the pale grass blue butterfly have been found to show deformed eyes and wings; scientists have been carrying out experiments where they allowed mating between abnormal insects and unaffected partners, to monitor the progress of genetic damage in the species.
The artist Cornelia Hesse-Honegger examined the insects found in areas which had been affected by the radioactive fallout from Chernobyl; she began to record, in a series of watercolour paintings, the curious deformities present in flies and other insects. Naturally, in the finest tradition of scientific discoveries, her work (illustrated in the book Heteroptera) was condemned by the establishment.
And now we learn that the uranium processing plant at Aldermaston is to be temporarily closed for repairs to the structural steelwork, which is beginning to corrode – rather like the machine tools which were gradually annihilated by hordes of invisible scouring fleas in the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still.


The Unknown Zone of Bone

I do like Donald Rumsfeld.
The man who was mocked for talking about ‘known unknowns and unknown unknowns’ is a military strategist of remarkable acumen.
It would be highly improper for anyone to accuse him of not being honest with his employers (the American taxpayer).
However, it is hard to forget that Rumsfeld once reassured the public that going to war in Iraq was necessary to oust the vile dictator…and that the military campaign might run for five months and cost no more than fifty billion dollars (which, at the time, was a staggering fortune).
We now find ourselves in January 2013, looking at a conflict situation which has lasted almost ten years and cost…well, opinions differ, but there is one online calculator which keeps a running total, and the clock hurtles effortlessly past the 1,415-billion dollar mark.

The scorn that was heaped upon Rumsfeld for his comments about ‘unknown unknowns’ was quite unjustified; it is reasonable to acknowledge that we have a body of information (known) accompanied by a lack of information (known unknowns) together with a lack of awareness (unknown unknowns). The concept of fundamental research relies on people being able to both answer questions – and to ask questions which have not previously occurred to the experienced thinkers in one’s field of study.
According to Wikipedia (the grandest compendium of things we didn’t know we didn’t know),

“Psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Žižek extrapolates from these three categories a fourth, the unknown known, that which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know:[6]

If Rumsfeld thinks   that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the “unknown   unknowns,” that is, the threats from Saddam whose nature we cannot even   suspect, then the Abu Ghraib scandal shows that the main dangers lie in the   “unknown knowns” – the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene   practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background   of our public values.”

I disagree with Žižek on the exact nature of unknown knowns; they do not have to be wilful ignorance for the benefits of a clear conscience (the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind) but can also include the vast body of subconsciously absorbed knowledge – tacit information – which people hold and which can be exploited by advertisers and politicians eager to influence the general public. How many times have you answered a quiz question, only to think ‘How did I know that?’

Journal Entries, October 1990:
Am sat here listening to the new PSB album for the 5th or 6th time. Tomorrow might go to London avec Mike and Dan.
Never went to London, instead met the lads in town and went boyspotting. Firework display in South Parks so Marston Rd packed with cars & pedestrians and it took half-hour to reach Carfax.
Spent evening in Apollo – everyone was there – Keith, Dennis, Lance, the Didcot Boys, Peter P, Mike & Dan. On way home walked my bike up to Carfax with M & D. Suddenly the bearded boy in a leather jacket appeared: young Robert.
Last night had cheese and wine party with Di, Elaine, Sheilagh, John C, mike, Danny, Lance and Keith. Woke up with hangover, found a yellow Post-It note from George saying ‘sorry but I hate smokers and I don’t entertain them in my house’ all in shaky block caps.
Went to training restaurant (Oxford Poly catering dept), Di thought she was going for a quiet meal with Elaine but found five of us waiting. We brought in a large cake with an equation iced on top:

Tg/G [Σ(1-v) = 25 (or something like that…)

‘Happy Birthday!’ we all trilled, and she went very red.

Journal Entry, Sun 14 Dec ’03:
Went to Poplars on A50 for MAG regional meeting. Tev wants us to have a rock night at the Village Inn. In the news: nothing much. Allied troops have captured Saddam Hussein. But how does one punish someone who has caused so much suffering?

Journal Entry, Tue 4 May ’04:
Big story in the news – smuggled photographs showing Iraqi PoWs being humiliated by US and later UK soldiers. Some people pay good money to be pissed on by a uniformed squaddie.
Sunday night went out with B to Legends for Bears’ Night. Last night rang Lady K and she told me that Stevie Teats (visiting Manchester on Sat night) exclaimed ‘Oooh, Mary!’ after narrowly avoiding being mown down by a pushbike.
The rider screeched to a halt, glared at him and snapped ‘My name’s not Mary!’ before riding indignantly away.

Sporting Confessional

Two programmes recently on TV featuring high-profile sporting personalities who have tried to come to terms with their secret histories. First up was Lance Armstrong, champion cyclist and seven-times winner of the gruelling Tour de France, who became an inspirational hero when he overcame cancer. His athletic performance and stamina in these races made some people wonder whether he was actually using some kind of banned substances; and when these people said in public what many riders thought in private, Armstrong unleashed the mighty forces of the law, and sued – successfully – for defamation of character. ‘How dare you accuse me of cheating!’ he snarled, ‘I have always tested clean for drugs’. His accusers, in the press and the public, were forced to hand over thousands of dollars and grovelling apologies.
However, a 2012 report for the US Anti-Doping Agency led to Armstrong being stripped of his magnificent seven T-de-F wins, and last week he recorded an interview with legendary TV host Oprah Winfrey. During this chat, he admitted using an elaborate arsenal of banned performance-enhancing techniques; but this did not count as ‘cheating’, since he didn’t do these things to obtain an unfair advantage, but simply to put himself at the same level as the other riders, all of whom were also using drugs. Good old Lance! If you’re not prepared to cheat, you don’t really want to win…

The other sporting confessional came from retired rugby player Gareth Thomas, who took part in an hour-long programme called ‘My Secret Past’ in which he revealed how he had concealed his homosexuality and joined in with the routine anti-gay banter of friends and teammates. We saw him discussing this history of deceit with a group of teenagers at school, with his parents and with his old coach.
All the time, he says, he was disgusted at being gay – and at having to live a lie. We even saw the church (an amazingly beautiful location) where he married his girlfriend in an attempt to become straight. But for much of the time, his life was constant torment and he considered suicide, deterred only by the thought of the misery that his parents would suffer.
The programme tried to explain how easy it is to lie and to join in with a prevailing culture of intolerance and abuse; Thomas may be the big strong chap par excellence, but you could still hear his voice falter with nerves when he revisited the changing room where he had a breakdown and finally had to admit that he had been deceiving his teammates for years.

In his interview with Oprah, Lance Armstrong comes across as being shrewd and manipulative, expressing just the right amount of contrition. Look at me, he seems to say; I’m so noble and honest. But I had you all fooled, didn’t I? He reminds me of those benefit claimants who pretend to be living in bleak, one-roomed poverty before posting Facebook pictures of themselves enjoying a fabulous foreign holiday. For these people, the temptation to flaunt their cunning is just too great.
Thomas’ behaviour is more subdued; he seems to be haunted by the hurt he has caused others, and is resigned to the idea that, while he cannot undo the past, he can try to persuade insecure gay youngsters to be more honest with themselves – and to make bullies aware of the damage their derision can cause.

Disappearing Laptop

The mystery of the disappearing laptop, part 2:

Journal Entry, 29 Aug ’08:
Last night I found my letter from the Flat Agency, saying ‘we will put the keys under your door and then change the locks on Friday’. So I had the day off work and rang the agency to tell them my keys weren’t there. They told me that the council had given them until 1 Sept to change the locks to comply with new legislation.
Anyway, contractor turned up to fit new locks and hand over the keys. I pointed at the top lock and said “I’ve already had to change that one since my laptop got nicked” and mentioned the saga of the hot water (it took them five months to get round to restoring it).
Then I overheard the following exchange between the two contractors:
A: Does stuff often get nicked from here, then?
B: Yeah, that’s why we’ve had to fit new locks.

Journal Entry, 26 Aug ’08:
There have been 147 complaints from viewers concerning the new TV advert for ‘Orangina’ which features pornographic pole-dancing cartoon animals.
I’ve also seen a poster advertising a six-dimensional car: the new Citroën claims to have 400 cubic litres of boot space.
Just started work on answering Steve M’s OU questionnaire – entire thing riddled with spelling and grammatical blunders. So I’m writing a problem analysis based around a Bike Club fundraising event (Riverside debacle, MSC float fiasco, MAG rock nite).
Today is 50th anniversary of Vaughan-Williams’ death; they’re playing symphony no.9 at Proms – reminds me of Grasmere St when I had a tape of that in my Aiwa Walkman.

When I grow up, I want to be posh;
I’m going to live in a cul-de-sac
In a semi-detached house
With a lawnmower in the garage
And a neighbour who wears a suit to work.

Perhaps one day when I grow up
I’ll fall in love. I wonder what it’s like?

Letters and Silence

“I see you sent my letters back
And my LP records, an’ they’re all scratched”

Sting was – and is – an accomplished songwriter, who can use elegant and obscure language when the mood takes him; but when he came to depict an acrimonious split in ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ he decided to use brutally simple prose. Younger music fans, accustomed to  a world of instant messaging and free downloads, may be puzzled by the references to letter and LP record. Indeed, some people today may have never had occasion to write a letter or listen to a vinyl album. ‘What’s the point of writing a letter?’, they might ask; ‘Simply decide what you want to tell someone, and ring them up.’

But letter-writing has a long, noble history. Imparting or requesting information is merely a part of the dance of ideas that makes up good communication. Mozart wrote letters sprinkled with coarse, juvenile humour (much to the dismay of Margaret Thatcher when she saw the play ‘Amadeus’), much of the New Testament is made up of letters from Paul to various disciples, Stanley Spencer wrote frequently to his wife even after she had died, and Laura Riding considered letters as an important literary genre. The Literature departments at several UK Universities hold correspondence from Riding, whose letters involve long, ornate sentences. How would one explain to a non-English speaker that letters are made up of sentences, which are made up of words, which themselves are made up of letters?

The Victorians were keen on proper use of the written word, and many popular handbooks appeared offering guidance on how to compose letters. George Routledge’s ‘A new letter writer for the use of Ladies and Gentlemen with applications for situations etc etc’ ran to over forty editions and includes charming templates for use by young ladies wishing to accept or decline offers of marriage. Some of the suggested responses (polite and florid to contemporary ears) may have seemed incredibly brusque back then:

Letter LXX, From a Servant, refusing addresses.
          “John – I do not know what could have led you to believe that I had any partiality for you. Such is not the case. I wish you well, as I have no reason for wishing you otherwise, but I have no desire for any attentions from you of any kind. Yours,”

Poor John! The arrival of this missive probably plunged him into despair and embarrassment, and it is likely that he spent the evening in a gin-palace before jumping into the Thames.

Abraham Lincoln composed vile, sarcastic letters which appeared in local newspapers, mocking his political opponents. According to Dale Carnegie, one of these letters actually provoked James Shields to propose a duel, an encounter which (had it taken place) would have ended Lincoln’s life; and the experience so unnerved the great politician that he refrained afterwards from criticising people, even when it was deserved.

An e-mail message could be sent from anybody, and to anybody (and often this method is used, quite correctly, to request information from numerous individuals at once) but a letter has a personal element. Thoughts condense within the barrel of a pen before being discharged onto the fertile field of a blank page; in this respect, a letter is unique – a gift made out of time for you and no-one else – a piece of information but also a declaration of intent.

My enjoyment of e-mail was severely tested when, in July 2008, my beloved Toshiba laptop computer vanished from home.

Journal Entry, Sun 13 Jul ’08:
Unwanted ‘Cock Out’ Rally. Friday morning went to see Dr Clarke and showed him my new mole – nothing to worry about, said he.
Went to work to load bike up with dry tent and bed etc, and also for meeting avec George and Tenchy. Popped down to George’s office and he said ‘Oh, we decided there was no need for Dave to come in’.
Nice of him to let me know.
Rode off to rally, parked up near cars & put tent up. Then I found Donz and Moo had pitched further down field.
Donz got chatting to two blokes from Brighton (Richard and Richard), v funny and good company.
Bands – Strangers were as good as ever, their set now includes ‘Mr Blue Sky’. On Sat night we had a rather camp rock outfit called ‘Smokin Gun’.
Random recollections from weekend: Nettie got wrecked on Malibu and Absinthe & Red Bull cocktails. Donna got her hands on a cute young rally virgin, him and his dad joined us for coffee outside her big tent.
Andy asked me to send my CV to him and he would forward it to his HR dept.

Journal Entry, Tue 15 Jul ’08:
Got home from work to find some water pressure in hot tap! Wow!
Last night B- called round; he said the chavs downstairs were being very noisy until about 1 a.m. taking deliveries of some merchandise.
Laptop vanished? Ring B and Flat Agency and Police.

Journal Entry, Wed 16 Jul ’08:
Last night WPC Smith came round and took statement about burglary. This morning I e-mailed Flat Agency to ask them how many keys to my flat they had lost. This provoked an angry response, claiming that they’ve never lost any keys – the keys I provided them with were no good and didn’t fit the lock.
Their story doesn’t add up – I carefully avoided mentioning that I had actually been at home on Fri morn. They said the water was repaired ‘late last week’, delightfully vague, but when I told B he said he’d tried to wash hands several times Mon night and Tues morn & found hot tap totally empty.
Flat agency also claimed that the phone numbers I gave them weren’t working – so I sent them a copy of my earlier e-mail with home, mobile and work tel numbers all present and correct.

Journal Entry, 11 Dec ‘03
In Montgomery-Hyde’s edited version of ‘Teleny’ he mentions in the introduction that the book contains some lurid episodes which cannot be printed. However, as a treat he gives us a brisk resume of the offending scenes.
In Rieu’s translation of The Iliad, two of the Greek soldiers return to the camp with a pair of thoroughbred horses which have been captured, and they are greeted joyously with ‘much shaking of hands’.
Surely they would have embraced and kissed each other in the fashion of modern-day football players.



Astute anagram Rusty?

I say I say I say….did you hear about the Government ministry which decided to use lower-grade materials and less stringent test procedures in order to save money on its military hardware?
Then again, there are plenty of people out there who have no technical training, and who think that engineering, metallurgy, paint technology etc are intact fields of science in which there are no further discoveries to be made.

Britain needs a critical mass of technical experts in a range of disciplines, spread out across the whole country and both private and public sectors. Otherwise we’ll end up with a whole catalogue of disasters to match the story below:

The story so far, as reported on the BBC News website (10 Dec 12):

“ “Slow, leaky and rusty” was how a recent headline in the Guardian newspaper described the Royal Navy’s latest £1.2bn attack submarine. It’s hard to deny that HMS Astute has so far hit the headlines for mostly the wrong reasons.

Early in its sea trials in 2010, Astute – the first of the Navy’s brand new submarine class of the same name – ran aground off the Isle of Skye. After colliding with a tug that had come to her rescue she had to go back for repairs.

And last year, whilst docked in Southampton on a “good will visit” a crew member shot dead an officer, Lieutenant Commander Ian Molyneux. And then came the Guardian story that highlighted an alarming list of technical problems. They included corroded pipes, the wrong lead around the nuclear reactor, a flood caused by an incorrect fitting and questions about her speed. So it may be little surprise that some have started calling Astute “HMS Calamity” instead.”

In the field of corrosion science we carry out long-term evaluations, preparing dozens of coated panels and subjecting them to repeated cycles of salt-water, UV light, and low temperature to make sure that the adhesion and hardness are not compromised by environmental ageing. But these programmes are expensive – and if the results are unsatisfactory, then a further six-month test regime needs to be organised.
And the most effective anti-corrosive pigments, based on chromium (VI) are gradually being phased out for environmental safety reasons – leaving engineers with the task of designing systems around inferior substitutes. Even zinc phosphate has been classified as a marine pollutant, so that alternative materials need to be investigated.
The answer to this problem may lie in the development of nan0-material barrier pigments which can resist the ingress of water and oxygen, or finely-deposited layers of conductive polymer film.
It would be interesting to study the research programmes carried out in Japan and Korea, to find out if their strategic approach generates information more rapidly.

The Crumpled Twilight of the Tarnished Soul

Tues 1 Jan 2013:
Happy New Year! Last night I had an evening of reckless debauchery – stayed in with a box of ‘After Eights’ and watched ‘Lethal Weapon 4’ before falling into bed at about 11:00. It’s now quarter-past eight and I’m listening to the Ravel Piano Trio.

Journal Entry, Tue 4 Sep ’07:
Have been at work (EC) for two years tomorrow; wot have I done during that time?
Antwerp (twice), Nuremberg (once), three funerals (Mel, Ian, Val).
Two business distance learning courses (RDI and OU).
Sold the CB and bought the Deauville.
Bought dozens of CDs and books, and learned a lot about pigments, and joined the Manchester Section OCCA committee.

 Journal Entry, 10 May ’07:
Tuesday afternoon Alan drove us down to Stanstead to get the plane to Nürnberg. Arrived at hotel midnight to find the rest of the EC crew already in the bar cheering with delight when they spotted us. My suite was ginormous.
Got up early, grabbed a short Frühstuck, went on tube to the Messe Exhibition Hall, wandered round for hours – nowhere to sit down and eat.
While at the show called at the Sheen instruments stand to ask about glossmeters, and their guy (who had never met me) said ‘Didn’t you used to work at Carrs paints?’ Apparently Bob H is at HMG and Mick C is now a policeman.
Finished the show and came back – epic journey – 90 minute flight, 4 hour drive.

Journal Entry, 9 Aug ’07:
On Tuesday night rode up to Cramlington and got lost again. Weds morning went to interview at Cova; saw Colin T (Tech Mgr) and Doug Richie (HR Mgr) and Derek (CEO). Two of them asked if I was married or not, and all of them asked why I had changed jobs so frequently.
It turns out they’re looking for a replacement for Ray, who has been there for about forty years and is about to retire.
Whenever I attend job interviews, they always point out that I appear to jump from job to job and it doesn’t reassure them that I have a stable personality.
Perhaps I should have stayed put at Carrs Paints for 15 years. At least then my CV would fit happily on one side of A4. And I would never have joined MAG, or been to OCCA meetings or Surfex or the conference in Durham.
And I would still be carrying out unpaid overtime cleaning the spray booths. And I would never have been allowed to meet customers or suppliers.

Tues 1 Jan 2013:
After plunging into the Vortex of Dissipation last night (not), I felt bright enough to go out for a quick blast up the A580 to Haydock park, where I stopped for brekky at Little Chef. Would you believe they now have a drinks licence there? It was a tad fresh at about 10.00 when I passed the turn for Leigh. Glancing up, I beheld a rainbow in the sky.
As I was about to leave the car park, I checked my machine and found that the gear-change lever had worked loose and was about to drop off. Which, had it happened while I was doing eighty-five on the M6, might have made 2013 a remarkably brief year for me…

Journal Entry, 31 Dec ’09:
Clearing out all my belongings I came across a card sent from Gail McB in February 1992 – just before I landed my job at Carrs Paints. Oh, who would have ever dreamed that my life would turn out like this?
Had an e-mail reply from Andrew Foster asking where my new job was going to be. So KC didn’t actually approach him for a reference.
Gave Luke a stack of old BSH magazines for him to send out to the troops serving in the Middle East.