Wednesday, 26 September 2018

On the merit two-dimensionalality

If you left your tennis racquet out in the rain, without its press, you learnt that being three-dimensional is not always a blessing.

My last tennis racquet was made of ultra-light metal, and strung with plastic, nylon, I think, so you could keep it in the bath, and it'd still work. It didn't even have a cover.

Two books that I prized greatly as a child were volumes I & II of 'How things work'. I think they were a present. I'd have thought they might have been from my mechanically minded uncle, but I think they were more probably from my parents, or brother. Probably my brother.

My uncle once gave me a set of chest-expanders for Christmas. I had no idea that anybody would use such things voluntarily, and still don't understand people who do. I was so disgusted that I didn't, fortunately, probably, even think about how the springs could have been adapted into a trebuchet.

'How things work' were wonderful books. Volume I rather better than Volume II, which seemed something of an afterthought, but they didn't explore the medical, surgical or veterinary worlds much, so there wasn't anything about the making of tennis racquets and what went on at the cat-gut factory. I looked, specially, so I know this, and still don't know if they use(d?) machines or people who were very good with scissors.

Wikipedia tells me they use sheep or goats, rather than cats, something that'd have been hard to find out then. This aside in wikipedia has me wondering 'Lean animals yield the toughest gut', so, if you're going to use somebody's guts for garters, make sure he's not too skinny.

Technological improvement is a wondrous thing, but, somehow, it seems sad that boys of today don't have a chance to think of the relative merits of the four-screw press over the fast-release lever press for racquets, or to wonder what happens at the cat-gut factory.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

The bunny gardener

The Bunny gardener.

We’d only been waiting a few minutes, when I saw the large, white rabbit walking purposely up the hill, along the pavement, towards us, unaccompanied.

I was with my brother in the small, trim garden. The others had gone ahead to chapel, and, if there was time, we were to join them. I think we were in Wales, at the house of a relative - though not an aunt, as she didn’t look like any of our three aunts. It was a very quiet Sunday morning with nobody about.

The bunny came into the garden, gave us a nod, and started to take care of the most obvious chores, nibbling off a dying branch from one of the rose bushes and dragging it to the heap in the corner that was clearly going to be the bonfire later.

Then he came to look at the provisions we’d laid out for him, clearly satisfied with the milk, carrots and, I think, oatmeal. Then he gave a start, almost gave us a disapproving look, and started looking through one of the bags we’d brought the provisions in with the air of somebody not expecting to find anything.

It suddenly came to me, I remembered out instructions. I said:

‘I’m so sorry! I realise that we didn’t get the mutton kebabs. We’ll get some as soon as we can, and have them ready for you when you come back on….’

‘..Wednesday’, my brother said. I’d not remembered the day.

The bunny stopped looking, and went back to gardening. I don’t think he could speak, but, if he had, it’d have surprised me less than him arriving on his own.

It was, we’d learned, a standard arrangement, you got hold of the bunny, through a ‘phone call, and he turned up at the stipulated time, getting on with the job happily, and extremely efficiently, wanting only to have the right provisions. 

Unusually, he was a carnivorous rabbit, at least to the extent of mutton kebabs.

We went inside, leaving him to work, deciding, without much regret, well, without any, actually, that we were too late to make chapel. We settled down to wait, after having made a note to get the kebabs, and, a few minutes later, everybody came back from chapel.

It was a most vivid dream. The rows of houses, with small front gardens, on each side of the road curving downwards are sharp in my memory, as was the garden of the house itself, with somewhat fussy brick flowerbeds in front of the chocolate-boxy house. It was the chapel, and the general atmosphere, that made me think it must be Wales, though it was very certainly much to smart and affluent to be sad Rhymney.

I’m no fan of dream interpretation, since, more often as not, cigars are just cigars and bunnies, rabbits.

I also know that other people’s dreams are of very little interest, only our own dreams fascinate us.

Still, since this was one of the more outré dreams I’ve ever had, I thought I’d write it down, whilst I remembered. 

I know why, particularly, I wasn’t keen on going to chapel. When I went, with my mother, in Rhymney, when eleven, I wanted to sing the familiar hymns, but found the hymnbooks impenetrable, being written in Welsh. 

We’ve never had rabbits as pets. I know no bunnies. So I’ve no idea why I dreamt of the bunny gardener, but I’m pleased that I did. Peculiar as it was, it was a most peaceful and pleasant dream.

The oddest thing about it was that I thought it odd that the bunny came to us unaccompanied, usually, in dreams, you don’t question that sort of thing.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

A magical Easter morning

I was treated to an amazing experience this morning. I drove into town, on my 'bike, as usual, for my swim, at the Long Street Baths. It's a magnificent, clear, bright sunny morning, with Table Mountain sharp and clear, after the recent, blessèd rain.

As I walked into the changing-rooms, empty, as you'd expect on a holiday, I was transfixed by the beautiful sound of a hymn being sung in the pool-hall. As you'd expect, the acoustics of a large municipal swimming pool are impressive.

There were about twenty people, around the shallow-end, singing mindfully, eyes closed, with close harmonies, and extemporized descants, over a confident, joyful, rhythmic and unhurried rendition - every word clearly annunciated. My mother once said that the only thing that ever made her a little homesick, for the valleys of Wales, was the sound of a Zulu congregation. 

There's no need for a choir, in Wales, as in Africa, the congregation expect, and are expected, to carry the sound entire.

It was, of course, quite unaccompanied by any instrument.

I swam, as they sang, together with two other fortunate swimmers.

It was a mass, full-immersion baptism - if it can be a 'mass baptism' with only half a dozen baptizees. 

One, by one, as we swam, they six were lowered into the water, then, emerging, clapped by all, and photographed by flashing cell-phones. 

Smiles of delight welcoming them back to the dry poolside.

Vanity can't have been discussed much, during their catechism, because one baptizee wrapped a large, green plastic bag about her head, so as not to spoil her hairdo.

As I changed back, and got ready to return home, the closing hymn was echoing through the changing-rooms, that, for  that moment, were the cloisters of heaven.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Zen-like patience - James May re-assembles a lawnmower

An introduction to developing a Zen-like patience.

If you like this sort of thing, this is a perfect exemplar of precisely the sort of thing you will like. If you don't, ditto.

This lawnmower has 331 bits. I doubt this is intentional. Neatness would either have added an extra two bits, washers would have done, to get an even 333, or left out a bit, one must be otiose, to get 330.

I'm not sure if there's any connection to deep complexity, but the human body starts with 206 bones (well, at the arbitrary point of birth, clearly the zygote has none), and ends up with 350. For a lawnmower to come in at 331, does, if you're suggestible in this way, suggest some lawishness must be involved somewhere.

I could never do this. The number of fiddly bits and stages involved would drive me to distraction. That James May had only one period, of a mere 30 minutes, involving blasphemy, does, indeed, establish that his patience is close to that of a zen master. If you haven't the patience even to watch the demonstration (compressed), of deep patience, it was the piston rings that led to the blasphemy.

It's also a good demonstration of masculinity. It's unlikely that many people find masculinity puzzling, as James observes, it's more femininity that has that reputation. Still, if you do, this helps.

There's the huge grin, showing deep inner peace, at various stages, where a sense of completion is achieved. This may not simply be masculinity, but part of the 'Do' ( Korean 도, Japanese 導 or Chinese 道 [or 道], the 'way-of' or 'path to' working. The way-of-working needed to do something, in this case, long and fiddly.

There's also the 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' style use of the assembly, and stages of the assembly, as metaphors for life.

The sharp blade is supposed to cut business cards. It would have been sufficient to cut just one card, just the once. It is, of course, impossible for anybody who started life as a boy, to do this. He had to cut it three times - for the camera. Probably two or three more times for himself, off-camera.

The film also, incidentally, complies to the Dogme 95 dogma.

Thanks to James Gander  for introducing this to me.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

I probably shouldn't be impressed by the Cape Town water department, but I am.

I probably shouldn't be impressed by the Cape Town water department, but I am. No doubt they were only doing their job, but I think we can still be impressed by a job well done.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, a Saturday, a water main burst in Observatory. It was at the top of Station Road, just below the traffic lights on Lower Main Road. Somebody who saw the damage said that it looked like the aftermath of a small earthquake. We don't get earthquakes in Cape Town much, the last minor tremor was in Tulbagh, 121km away, in December, and, the last big earthquake, the biggest in South African history, was a 6.3 in the same place, in 1969. So he must have known what they looked like from photographs.

It must have been in the early hours, because we still had a trickle at six in the morning.

I'm not sure the first time they were told about it, but they had the area cordoned off, with men working on it, by nine. When we went past at midday, the men had dug a deep trench. When we came past again, at three in the afternoon, they had a huge back-hoe digging an even bigger trench.

The water was back on again at about five.

We are very short of water, at the moment, not, fortunately, anything like as bad as further North, where there is a terrible drought, but the dam water levels this year are the lowest they've been over the past five years, though the levels did build up considerably in February, despite it being the dry season. There's a picture of the levels at our largest reservoir, 'Theewaterskloof' below.

So it's important that bursts are repaired quickly, and good to know just how quickly they can be repaired, and how good our water department is at their jobs. Congratulations!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Hateful Eight - Quentin Jerome Tarantino's film

Naming a film, 'The Hateful Eight', in order to remind anybody watching that this is your eight film, isn't the act of a modest man, but, if anybody were concerned that Mr Tarantino had been replaced by a  doppelganger, this, along with the extreme, and, somewhat, gratuitous violence in the film, ought to put his mind at rest.

Though Mr Tarantino doesn't credit Laurence Sterne for the smashing of the fourth wall as an art form, he does do it as well as Mr Sterne does in 'Tristam Shandy'. I think he'd call it 'post modern', as, too, no doubt, he'd also label the other devices found in 'Tristam Shandy', like telling the story in a peculiar order, and adding lots of clever self-reference. Odd, really, that such, albeit unconscious, homage should be given to a book published in 1759, by a chap so keen to be hip and 21st Century as Mr. Tarantino, but there it is.

It is a sound point that the animosities of wars, particularly of civil wars, continue for a considerable time after the mass killing has been stopped. He might be right, but I'm not sure if the possible implication this film intends is really accurate. Do so many current American problems really have their ætiology in the Civil War? He certainly does make a good stab, if you excuse the term in this context, at making that point.

The ghastly characters in the film are nicely drawn, and the dialogue between them is often funny. Their perspectives are sharply drawn, and it's interesting to see what things they appear to hold in common. As far as I can see they hold these views in common:

- Guns are a really good thing
- The Civil War was a really bad thing, but certainly the other side's fault
- Lying is a bad thing, particularly when practiced by somebody else
- Lying is, however, not only inevitable, but ubiquitous, so only actions can be believed
- The pecking order is: White male -> White female -> Black Male -> Black Female -> dog -> Mexican
- Capital punishment, in particular, public execution by hanging, is a good thing. Not for everybody, but essential for some.
- Might is right

The film is evidently, at least at some level, intended to be satirical, so, clearly Mr Tarantino believes some, probably most, of these are not only wrong, but currently ubiquitous enough to require satirical treatment.

The well worn device of having the unlikely collection of characters isolated, in this case by a blizzard, works well. I'm not sure that the indulgence of such a long running time is justified. Certain aspects of the plot, signalled with crystal clarity in the first quarter of the film, are only revealed, as if an amazing surprise, a couple of hours later. I think the film could be much improved by reducing it to normal length.

Roy Orbison's song seems apt as a description of the Civil War, Tarantino films generally, and the problems that he highlights, quite well, all in all:

Now the old folks will remember
On that dark and dismal day
How their hearts were choked with pride
As their children marched away
Now the glory is all gone

They are left alone
And there won't be many coming home
No, there won't be many coming home
oh, there won't be many
Maybe five out of twenty
but there won't be many coming home


Friday, 23 January 2015

Moral Copyleft - can open source be closed to immoral use?

The Open Source movement is one of the great modern humanitarian triumphs. There are a number of different licenses that are used to enable the free use and distribution (not necessarily cost-free) of software source code. In particular, it enables the availability of code that can be proven to be free of malicious code (malware), something impossible with software that's distributed 'closed source' in binary.

One important side-effect has been the production of various licensing systems to enable a common pool of intellectual property that's free for everybody to use, not necessarily cost-free, and, usually, modify and redistribute, as long as the licensing follows the changes.

Though it is a humanitarian triumph, and has been championed by humanitarians who objected to the locking away of intellectual property by conventional copyright, there are some problems with it. In particular, it places no restriction on who can use the IP. So it can be put to evil, non-humanitarian uses - something almost certainly not the intent of the humanitarians who put their property under a creative commons or copyleft license.

I propose an alternative license, derivative from copyleft or creative commons licenses. The final license would need to be drawn up legally to avoid as many unintended consequences as possible. However, the idea is simple.

A 'Moral Copyleft' license would, allow free use, modification and distribution, but only for moral uses. For example, a 'Moral Copyleft' license could refuse permission for any arms manufacturer or dealer or organisation that promotes the non-consesual killing of human beings - states that practice capital punishment, or that export terrorism, or practice slavery, or supply drugs or other equipment for use by executioners or armies.

This would prevent a future linux-like platform from being used in military drones, or to manufacture poison gas for use against humans.

There is no reason, today, why somebody should not license work for that cannot be used to promote the eating of meat or working on Sunday or any of the many things individual people might be against.

The difference with this proposal is that, as with creative commons licenses, a free, easy to use, license would be available to any humanitarian who wished to make IP available to everybody, but not at the expense of humanity.

The license would need to reference some body, or bodies, that register immoral usage. Amnesty International, perhaps, or the Campaign against the Arms Trade could keep a register.

Whether other organisations that deliberately kill human beings, such as tobacco companies, would fall under the prohibition of such licenses would be part of the debate needed during the design of the license(s). There might be various levels of moral license, with the basic one being against weapons manufacturers and arms dealers, with more stringent ones available for activities less generally recognised as immoral.

The first step would be to canvas support for this proposal. If there was support, an Aunt Sally license or licenses could then be drawn up for comment and discussion. After that, with sponsorship, a watertight license could be drafted and made available, under its own license (not much of a limitation as it'd be a strange weapons manufacturer that would wish to have a moral license!).

The license could also prohibit use by organisations that act against responsible environmental behaviour - companies that contribute to irresponsible logging in the Amazon, say.

This would enable a moral philanthropist in the future, to donate money to a trust for the development of software or hardware for humanitarian use to have the application of a moral license a condition for funding.

Commercial companies wishing to enhance their environmental and moral image could also use this license for their commercial open source products.