Sunday, 30 September 2012

Burnout and the quarter-life crisis

Remarkably, i'm not currently suffering from burnout, partly because i don't do much.  However, i can easily remember a time when i did, and notably i did it a lot in my early twenties.  There is a good video waiting to be made about this, but this one is not it:

The story behind this is that i've noticed Charlie McDonnell getting a lot of stick about not uploading more videos, but when i look at the accounts of the people making those complaints they have not themselves uploaded any videos on those accounts.  Daniel says they're trolling, but i'm not so sure because they sound quite sincere.  My personal take on this is that the people concerned may be going through a quarter-life crisis.  Insofar as life crises even exist, the quarter-life one is about feeling daunted by being stuck doing the same thing for the next four decades or so and nostalgia for the recent past when things seemed easier and nicer in retrospect.

We only think we know these people of course, and the reading of the situation may be completely incorrect, but burnout and the quarter-life crisis do exist.

In other news, my video on Yoga and flatulence has had a lot of views.  What to make of this?  Hmm.  High dubium.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Take two before breakfast

Two videos again today, the second one being take two of yesterday's Yoga and flatulence vid failure.  Here's the second, better framed than the first so you can see how slapdash my asanas are nowadays:


Of course, describing asanas as slapdash is end-gaining and ayogic.  What i'm doing here, i think, is attempting to capitalise on my previous Yoga video on uddiyana bandha and nauli for constipation and flatulence, which at the time of writing has almost eight thousand views, presumably because it got linked to from somewhere.

One of the problems of relentless video production is the difficulty with editing and learning how to make good videos.  The punishing schedule of one a day gives results about as slapdash as the Yoga, and maybe this is the answer - don't end-gain with videos any more than i do with Yoga.  What would that mean though?   An entire channel filled up with my crud?  You probably know the answer to that better than i.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Farts and how to survive them

I'm not going to pretend i'm happy with this video and i plan to re-make it some time soon.  In my defence, it was a little hard to concentrate given my physical condition.  Frustratingly, this was supposed to be a "link" video to attract people from the other channel over to this one.

The problems are, of course, poor visual quality, framing and the fact that i couldn't fart through most of it when the video itself was supposed to be about farting. Problems also beset the video to which this is a sequel on the other channel, but i'm going to upload that one too because i want to keep going.

So:  basically, flatulence is caused in two ways.  One is the entry of gas into the colon from elsewhere and the other is the breakdown of carbohydrates by archaeans in the colon, namely Methanobrevibacter smithii.  It is sometimes possible to ignite farts but inadvisable.  Farts in most people usually consist largely of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane and sometimes hydrogen sulphide.

Farty vegetables include those with sulphur compounds and those with carbohydrates in them.  The former include the Brassicas such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, and the latter the pulses and beans as well as plants in the daisy family which contain an unusual carbohydrate called inulin.  Instead of our own digestive system being able to break the offending compounds down, organisms called archaeans do it instead.  These were until fairly recently thought to be bacteria, but have been found to be as different from them as bacteria themselves are from us, and they are therefore now placed in a completely separate kingdom.  The species which does the fart generation is called Methanobrevibacter smithii, as mentioned above, namely the methane.  Surprisingly, methane itself does not contribute to the stinkiness of farts, and nor to skatole or indole:  it's the sulphur-containing compounds, including hydrogen sulphide, which do that.

The herbal approach to farting is to use carminatives.  These are generally familiar herbs and spices as found in the larder, such as turmeric (Curcuma longa), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), caraway (Carum carvi), ginger (Zingiberis officinale), cinnamon (Cinnamonum zeylanicum) and cardamoms (Elettaria cardamomum), along with a host of others.  My personal favourite as a carminative herb is caraway, which i've found most successful, although in terms of taste i would prefer various other herbs on and off that list.  Carminative herbs tend to be found among the Zingiberaceae, Lamiaceae and Apiaceae - ginger, mint and celery families.  Their familiarity and presence in food is partly to aid digestion.

There are also physical and practical approaches.  Much of the substance of a fart comes from swallowed air.  This can be remedied by avoiding overbreathing and concentrating on the diaphragm, chewing each mouthful fifty times, not eating on the run and sitting down after food.  Once the gas is down there, there are various ways of relieving the problem, including the "telephoning teenager", the Cobra, the Child and the Shoulderstand, the last three also being known as (without diacritics) bhujangasana, balasana and sarvangasana.  Unfortunately, the second major thing to go wrong with this video was that the camera was too high to catch me doing these, so they're basically left to the viewers' imaginations.

So this video needs to be re-made, but because i'm determined to upload at least one video a day, i have insisted on posting this one too, even though it could've turned out so much better.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Alternate timelines as a way of learning history

When i was a youngling, i found history utterly boring.  That has now completely changed, possibly because i've lived through a lot more of it, but of course i'm not so much a history man as a philosophy man (and also a bit of an art poseur, though that's not immediately obvious).  One thing i'm not is the science guy, which really surprises people, but i'm really not.

Anyway, here's today's vid:

This is about one of my alternate histories, the so-called "Caroline Timeline", which is here:

The basic idea behind this is that most people feel things are just chugging along nicely until they reach a certain age, after which they gradually, or maybe suddenly, become an affront to the natural order of things and must be stopped.  For Gen-Xers such as myself, this happened with hindsight in about 1979.  The possibly illusory Post-War Consensus suddenly lurched out of kilter and history went in a completely different direction than most of us were expecting.  Keynesianism died, the Berlin Wall fell down, fundamentalism became more important and a horrible plague started killing homosexual men.  On the plus side, we didn't all get wiped out in a nuclear holocaust, a fact which surprises me even today.  Looking back on history and examining this more closely, it's clear that the seeds of this swerve are buried back in the mists of history and have maybe always been there but not necessarily apparent until recently.  Hence the Caroline Timeline.

The Caroline Timeline is my attempt to imagine where we'd be today if the trends apparent from 1945-79 had continued.  Some of the events are actually close calls in real time.  For instance, the "Curse of Tippecanoe" is the tendency for US presidents to die in office every twenty years.  Ronald Reagan was the first president not to die, although an assassination attempt was made against him.  Similarly, Pope John Paul II was almost assassinated but survived.  On the other hand, both Lord Louis Mountbatten and John Lennon were killed violently.  These events are "hair triggers" which had major consequences and the world today would've been different had they gone the other way.  Moreover, the real events are all improbable.  In the Caroline Timeline, they did go the other way.

Another aspect of the Caroline Timeline is that the "bonding energy" between spouses is slightly stronger.  To be less flippant and obscurantist, two divorces which happened in real history didn't happen over there, and as a result Punk Rock and Labour's Militant Tendency didn't happen.

Another major difference, and quite a contentious one, is that Moore's Law does not operate in the Caroline Timeline.  In 1820, in the real world, Augustus de Morgan was discovered at the age of fourteen in 1820 copying diagrams from Euclid's Geometry and went on to become a mathematician and logician, making innovations which eventually led to the machine i'm typing this on, the one you might be reading it on and the pipes connecting them.  Without the discoveries he made, these might not be impossible but they would be bloody massive and prohibitively expensive.  The reason this is contentious is that it stretches credulity to suppose that someone wouldn't have stumbled across them sooner or later.  It also depends on the idea that Moore's Law is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As it happens, i have another althist here:

In this one, technology is more advanced and politics closer to feudalism because James II of England had only one child and James Watt went to school at the age of six.  It's a nasty place and you wouldn't want to go there.

Both of these have stories based on them too.

However, the point i want to make is that this is a way of learning history which captivates the imagination and leads to debate.  As such, i would strongly recommend it as an approach to history

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Duodecimal finger counting

This is a second attempt to explain how to count in base twelve on your fingers.  The former attempt was said to be confusing because it was too "three dimensional".  I don't understand this criticism, so i've redone the video in the possibly vain hope that it's clearer.

The point is this.  We have ten digits on our hands and as a result we use ten symbols for our numbers:  0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.  As a result, we have a number system with at least two drawbacks which make arithmetic harder and lead people to feel that maths as such is more difficult than it really needs to be.  Both of these arise from the awkwardness of the number ten.

Ten divides into two and five, and of course itself and one, and nothing else.  This means that the number of regular patterns in the multiplication table in numbers written using this system is rather limited.  There are the repeating pattern in the five times' table, the even numbers of the twos, the downward counting of the nines, the repetition of the elevens and the adding a zero of the tens.  That's it.

The second problem is associated with decimal fractions.  Just up to ten, the fractions associated with the following numbers can never be exact:  3, 6, 7, 9, 11 and an infinite number of further numbers.  Each of these is recurring:

This makes things difficult unnecessarily.

One suggestion is to use hexadecimal - base sixteen.  This has much to recommend it but i have personally chosen the duodecimal base instead.  Moreover, i would advocate the universal use of the duodecimal system where possible.  This is the system which uses twelve symbols instead of ten, and as a result most recurring decimals and hard-to-discern or absent patterns are eliminated from arithmetic.  Twelve divides into two, three, four and six as well as itself and one.  This gives each of those times tables a pattern.  It also gives eight and nine times tables a pattern because they are multiples of factors.  Eleven has a pattern akin to nine in the decimal system and even thirteen has a pattern.  All that's needed is to use two extra symbols, and for typographical ease i use A and B, though there are other choices.

Another advantage is the absence of recurring "duodecimals".  In this system, 2, 3, 4 and 6 have no recurring digits.  Hence fractions are also easier.

One objection frequently made to this is that we tend to have fewer than a dozen digits on our hands.  This is not a problem because what we do have on our hands is a dozen finger bones.  This video shows how to count using those finger bones, and it is in fact possible to count to 144 using this system, and to do various forms of arithmetic using easy finger manipulations - addition is demonstrated here, but other arithmetic operations are also easier.

Moreover, i believe the decimal number system should be abandoned for weights and measures and money, for the same reason, and replaced with duodecimal.

As it stands, we have a disabling numerical notation that teaches the lie that arithmetic and maths are hard and to be hated and feared.  Get rid of decimal and that fear and hatred will go away.  Do it now.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mike Teavee, Teleportation and the Poisson Ratio

Yesterday's thoughts about Violet Beauregarde led me to think about another victim of the chocolate factory:  Mike Teavee.  His fate is equally strange and raises equally big questions, but also some solutions to the Violet Beauregarde problem.  Here's the video:

I really must get past identical-looking talking head videos.  It would also be nice if i could work out how to edit these new high-quality files although the discipline of trying to be smooth and word-perfect is good.

So:  Mike Teavee is teleported across a room.  Whereas Violet's volume multiplied by a factor of about twenty-four, his is divided by about a thousand.  Nonetheless, his mother can pick him up easily and put him in her handbag, so we have to conclude that he lost most of his mass in the process or he would end up about fifty times as dense as the heaviest known metal, osmium.  The fact that the teleported chocolate bar was still edible is consistent with this.  Something like 0.1% of the matter is reconstituted at the other end, preserving all structures down to the molecular level.

There are in fact plenty of mammals of about this size, so the existence of a human being 15 centimetres tall is not inherently implausible.  However, a number of physiological problems arise.  One of the most obvious is that Mike's surface area to volume ratio has altered dramatically.  Relatively speaking, he now has ten times the surface area to volume ratio he had before, and his insulating layer of subcutaneous fat is only a tenth as thick.  Left to himself, he will now quickly die of hypothermia unless the room is close to human body temperature or he is insulated in some other way.  It's entirely feasible to suppose that his bunny suit is either artificially heated or a very good insulator.  However, it's just as well he's in a chocolate factory as he's going to need a lot of energy-dense food.  Some shrews, for example, have to eat five times their own weight in food every day.  Most mammals of that size are considerably rounder and have more fat than humans.  This applies, for example, to the smaller primates such as tarsiers:

(This animal has a long tail which i have "cut off".)

The second problem i mention is the size of the brain.  Mike's brain now has a capacity of around a quarter of a teaspoon.  Nonetheless he still seems to be able to behave in a recognisably human manner.  I have no idea how this was achieved as that tarsier's brain is probably bigger than his.

There are a couple of other problems, which, as it happens, puzzle me in general.  One of these is the problem of narrower tubes.  Much of pediatric medicine arises from this.  The fluids in a child's body have the same density as an adult's but the passages along which they move are narrower.  This means, for example, that whooping cough and asthma are worse for a child than an adult - the passages in the lungs are more easily clogged and they can close more easily.  As a matter of fact, this also puzzles me with small mammals, because i imagine the viscosity of murine mucus or blood is similar to ours but they're clearly fine most of the time.  I would love to know the answer to this.  Mike has this problem too.  He has the same blood, lymph, cerebrospinal fluid, mucus, urine and is breathing the same kind of air as us, but all of those have to move through smaller vessels as fast to keep him alive.  How is his body doing this?

There is also the problem of the missing mass.  Maybe the transporter converts it into exotic dark matter.  However, that would not be very useful.  I prefer to believe that it's either stored somewhere or converted into energy.  Since almost all of Mike's matter has gone somewhere else, since matter cannot be created or destroyed, it may have been converted into energy.  According to Einstein's equation of E=mc^2 and assuming he has a mass of about fifty kilogrammes, this is enough energy to keep the whole of human civilisation going for a year at 2010 levels, so the Wonka factory presumably gets very few fuel bills.  Alternatively, maybe the mass is stored in another form which can be transmuted into various other types of matter.  This might explain where the blueberry juice came from - the gum includes a matter transmitter, or rather receiver, which supplies Violet's body with juice stored from other objects which have been sent through the teleport, or maybe the stick of gum itself is from an earlier version of the transmat device which failed to remove all the matter, in which case it would literally weigh a tonne unless it also contains the gas from the fizzy lifting drinks.  So it's all coming together.

Now for the question of bandwidth.  In the 1971 film, Mike takes 24 seconds to be transmitted.  Since he is "in a million pieces" (and for some reason can still talk), we can assume the average size of each piece is either 50 milligrammes or perhaps 50 microgrammes, depending on when the matter is removed - maybe in transit.  I'm still assuming he weighs fifty kilogrammes.  A fifty microgramme piece of matter with the same density as water could form a cube about the size of a full stop.  I don't particularly have a problem with that except that i'm interested in the composition of these pieces.  Are they literally bits of flesh, bone, blood and so forth flying through the air, or are they more like material forms of data packets describing the make-up of tiny bits of his body?  It's a fairly neat technique but not one i feel has been fully thought through.  Is data compression involved?  What is the bandwidth of the signal?  It seems to me that many data would be required to encode and reconstruct a human being with intact memories and personality.

Interestingly, this is something which the 1986 remake of the film 'The Fly' addressed by talking about DNA.  Jeff Goldblum's character is reconstituted from his DNA, so in a sense the teleport is his mother and he is the result of an extremely rapid pregnancy and childhood.  This is a very efficient way of reducing bandwidth and can be further reduced by compressing the data for the human genome and shrunk further still by simply recording the differences between the individual and an average human being.  The memories would also need copying of course.  This machine is interesting because it is potentially a cure for all possible physical ailments and injuries, although probably one which kills the transportee.  The question arises of whether the person at the other end arrives with a sterile colon and no commensal bacteria, or whether it would be safe to transport someone with headlice or a tapeworm.  Nonetheless, the idea is somewhat appealing.

There is one final issue with Mike which is quite interesting.  He is restored to his normal stature, or rather more than his normal stature, by a taffy-pulling machine.  This makes him thinner than before, but unless he was pulled in all directions (or inflated?), he appears to have a negative Poisson ratio:  he gets wider as he is pulled.  This is interesting also because it might explain what happened to Violet.  Maybe her skin is actually getting thicker as she grows and there is less juice than there appears to  be.

Therefore, at least two and possibly three of the scenarios are linked here:  Mike Teavee and Violet are both highly elastic and their fates involve the unexpected appearance or disappearance of matter, and the fizzy lifting drinks found in the 1971 film may account for the lower than expected mass of the blueberry gum, which was probably created by a teleport device.

Monday, 24 September 2012


How about this for craziness?  I spend ages meticulously planning, making and editing videos before uploading them to YouTube and they get single-figure views per week, on the whole.  Then, last night, on a whim i edit this:

into this:

...and it gets sixty views in eight hours!  Initially puzzling of course, because of the lack of effort put into producing it, though i am of course aware of how into burping some people are.  In that case, however, i would expect them to prefer something else - looked on YouTube and i'm not going there!

However, it turns out one of my contacts has posted it on Reddit, so there you go.  Mystery solved, and a lesson learned.

Here's today's video:

This is tangentially related to the above and is about blueberries, more specifically a famous giant blueberry, Violet Beauregarde from Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', more specifically the 1971 film version called 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' due to Vietnam (long story, covered in the video).  The point of this video is really to illustrate a few points about blueberries and human physiology, but more importantly how safe herbs are compared to certain other substances and what counts as an overdose.  The recommended maximum dose of fluid extract of Vaccinium myrtillus is 8 ml, which amounts to 24 ml a day of course, and since fluid extracts are one unit of the remedy to each unit of the solvent, the dose is in fact only half that.  Nevertheless, the recommended intake of fluid per day is two litres, though this figure seems to have been plucked out of the same factoid space as the five portions of fruit and veg a day was.  Even so, two litres a day seems about right, and drinking two litres a day of blueberry juice wouldn't do you any immediate harm, although i suspect it would open your bowels a bit, something which would benefit a lot of us.  However, note the ratio involved.  Two litres is over eighty times the maximum recommended dose of the fluid extract, which is in any case half non-herb.  That kind of ratio rarely or never happens with popular over-the-counter or prescription drugs.  Paracetamol/Tylenol/Acetaminophen, for example, has a therapeutic ratio (effective dose to toxic dose) of only 2:1, which is admittedly unusually low for an over-the-counter remedy, but even ethanol, i.e. the main alcohol in wine, beer and spirits, has a ratio of 10:1.  There are much safer ratios out there than 80:1 (actually 166:1 or higher) in orthodox medicine, one example being the THC in Cannabis indica, but i presume you get the idea.

Having said that, there are also much more dangerous herbal remedies than Vaccinium myrtillus, one of the popular species of European bilberry which is widely used in herbalism, both in terms of dose and therapeutic index.  These are often restricted, though the policy of restriction seems to be both arbitrary and widely ignored.  It's easy to buy remedies over the counter which are technically illegal and no attempt ever seems to have been made to enforce this - not that it should be, but it is quite strange that this is so.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Nobody will notice, it's fine

People worry a lot about their privacy on the internet.  I find this quite strange in some ways, although i do understand it and i take those concerns seriously.  The reason i find it strange is that for the past thirteen years, i have tried to promote the herbalism on the internet, or rather, i did for a while and then decided it was a waste of time.  I used to see anything i put on the internet as a postcard, i.e. anyone could see it.  Whereas this is true, it's also the case that the internet is a blizzard of postcards and the chances of any one of those postcards being seen is very small.  If this were not the case, it would mean that people would only be able to make money publicising other people's things on the Web if people's beliefs about publicity being hard here were ill-founded.  As a result, i don't really care what i put on the internet because i realise most people have better things to do with their lives than pay attention to what some obscure middle-aged tranny thinks or does.  Basically, i can shout as loudly as i like about whatever takes my fancy without ever being heard against the clamour of other voices.

With this in mind, i would ask you to consider watching the following video without mousing over or clicking on any of the recommendations at the end.  If you do, you have only yourself to blame and you won't be able to unsee or unhear any of it.  If you want, i can give you a context based on concern for people's safety, a certain Wikipedia article which got deleted and a certain psychotherapist who was afflicted with scepticism:

Anyway, on the subject of the video itself, it's mainly about the stomach and associated tubing.  The stomach varies in size according to its content and is far from a passive receptacle, although oddly not much digestion takes place in it compared to a little lower down.  As it fills, it relaxes, thereby preventing damage, and it can hold up to five litres of liquid, solid or a combination of the two.  It also signals the colon hormonally as it empties, encouraging the movement of the contents of the digestive system down towards the anus to make space for the next lot.  Liquids are not compressible, so five litres outside the body will be five litres inside it, but in the case of air and other gases, five litres at atmospheric pressure will be less inside the stomach and as a result the capacity of the stomach for air seems to be greater than five litres although in fact it isn't.  Further down in the digestive system, the intestines have a capacity of about ten litres, so the whole digestive system from the bottom of the oesophagus downwards has a capacity of about fifteen litres overall.  Add to this the five litres of vital capacity in the lungs and you have twenty litres.

Some people might realise that what i'm writing here has a different significance than what the uninformed reader might think, which really just proves my point that you can shout as loud as you like on the internet and nobody will hear you.

Next stop Violet Beauregarde!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Lung Volumes

Having taken on board some advice, i have produced another video, which has so far proven rather hard to edit:

This is actually a remake.  A year or so back, i had a policy of deleting any video which got under 144 views in a week.  I have now stopped doing this, possibly ill-advisedly.  Unfortunately there are still a number of mistakes in this video, notably in its delivery and also a couple of factual errors.  I need to get more lively.  Anyway, the advice i've taken on board includes the plainer backdrop and the absence of glasses.  The framing is not too good here either.  I suspect that some people will also find it too quiet.  I was a little concerned that there'd be a crossover with the other channel here but it didn't happen.

On the subject of the video, one of the remarkable things about lung volumes is that, like many other aspects of the human body, we spend most of our lives in a narrow range of capacities despite having the potential to go much further.  The tidal volume, which is how much we breathe when at rest, is only about a tenth of our vital capacity, which is the maximum volume we can inhale and exhale.  There are lots of other examples of this.  We spend most of our lives not achieving our potential in so many ways, and some of these are physical as well as mental.  The 10% figure here - tidal volume as 10% of our usable lung capacity - reminds me of the 10% myth that we use only 10% of our brains.  Of course it's not the case that we only use 10% of the neurones in our heads, and if we used 100% of them it would be equivalent to a seizure, but it wouldn't be at all surprising if in fact we only achieved 10% of our intellectual capacity, partly for existential reasons but also partly because of deficiencies in our education.

Friday, 21 September 2012


Today's video was supposed to be about lung volumes but since i wanted to try out the new camera, i made a video on the world i missed out on when i described 'Here Be Dragons'.  I then accidentally uploaded the unedited version, but in any case Avidemux didn't like the codec, so it was a bit of a struggle and clearly a work in progress.  As a result, this is the real me, testing the quality of the video camera:

This is completely over the top of course, because doing a 1080p version of a talking head video is utterly ridiculous for its content.  However, according to my YouTube guru, who also happens to be my son, the quality of the audio and video has to be good.

Just on the subject matter, i've noticed that there are in fact six worlds in 'Here Be Dragons':  World Zero, Ancient World, West World, Realistic World, Aphrodite's Children and Ragnarok. I'd previous said there were four, i think.  Ragnarok is the most realistic.  It's an alternate timeline of this world where a superrnova generated a blast of radiation which destroyed all life on one hemisphere of this planet in the late tenth century. A minority of palaeontologists attribute the mass extinction of the late Ordivician 444 million years ago to such an event.  As a result, a mass extinction is underway and there are only a few hundred thousand people living in Ragnarok today.  Ragnarok is linked to Ancient World via an interdimensional portal called the Rainbow Bridge.

Two interesting things have happened on YouTube.  One is that someone i don't know has actually shown interest in the forthcoming book, which is great.  The other is that someone only one degree of separation from a subscriber to the Other Channel has commented on a video.  This is a bit weird, but good.  Maybe they will come together one day after all.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

No regrets my musical namesake once sang, but i think it was a cover.

Anyway, here's the latest vid:

A couple of things about this.  The children are currently taking a rather dim view of home education.  Since we sort of "did it for them", this might be thought to lead to some degree of distress on the part of Liz and myself, but no.  Not for me at least.  This may be because my rationalisation circuits are very advanced, or it may be because i have good reason for being fine about it.

The reason i think i'm fine about it is that there are several prominent examples of adults whose parents focussed on raising them full-time who later went on to say they wished they'd gone to school, but who are successful because they didn't.  One of them had a weekly column in a national newspaper at the age of sixteen and the other wrote a play which was put on in the West End, also while she was in her teens.  The second person is particularly remarkable because when she chose to go to school, quite late on in her adolescence, she was rather disappointed that the teachers weren't interested in what they talked and that the lessons came to an end abruptly with no opportunities to explore further.  My take on this is, well, what did she expect?  She chose to go to an institution where education is structured in that way.

So there's cognitive dissonance there as well.  In spite of the facts that school was not up to scratch in her own judgement, and that she was successful in an artistic and creative sense as well as in a worldly sense, that is, by a wide range of standards, as a result of being home educated, she still wished she'd been to school.   This strikes me as odd.  However, i think there's a healthy and honest explanation for this, which also applies to the children.  They are trying to feel good about their life choices and breaking away from their parents' lifestyle, and as such it's to be expected that they are positive about being at college.  They are also academically successful, engaged in college life and motivated to learn the explicit curriculum.  They were also given the choice at every point to go to school if they chose, and they never did so, unless you count the decision to go to college early.  As such, it makes perfect sense and I have no problem with it.

Here's the other video:

This is about comfrey, a herb banned for internal use in the UK.  I've basically said all i want to in the video, so i'll talk about making it.  This is in my father's front yard.  I felt somewhat self-conscious doing it due to people walking past, and i'd rather there'd been more comfrey cream in the tub when i filmed it.  You might also notice that the first video is slanted.

Just on the subject of YouTube videos, two things have just happened.  One is that i have a new camera, so if i can get the computer to work with it, the quality of the videos should improve from now on - Daniel's advice is that only HD videos get watched much, and since he's an avid YouTube viewer and a digital native, i trust him on that.  The other is that yesterday, someone only one degree of separation from a subscriber to the Other Channel commented on one of my videos.  This is slightly disconcerting, but might resolve the weird audience asymmetry problem between the two, where one is just slapdash and unpublicised but gets hundreds of thousands of views, and the other is meticulously planned and promoted and gets hardly any.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Home made breasts and custard

As anyone who has spent more than a tiny amount of time there, the Halfbakery (my favourite ideas bank) has long been obsessed with custard.  There are custard-filled speed bumps, custard travelators, ustard (which becomes either custard or mustard depending on what you prefer), custard as a coolant and custard guns.  The main reason for this obsession is that custard is a non-Newtonian fluid.  Newtonian fluids are ideal and probably don't exist, but water is close to one:  the harder you hit it, the more it yields, on the whole.  Plot the stress rate against the strain rate on a graph and you get a straight line.

However, many fluids are non-Newtonian.  They may hit back when you hit them hard or start off not yielding but decide to do so later, or they may go the other way and yield less than expected when you hit them gently, or trickle out gradually as time passes.  Examples of non-Newtonian fluids are blood, ketchup (think of banging on the bottom of the bottle to get it out or turning it upside down back in the day), non-drip gloss paint, wet cement, silly putty, quicksand and, famously, custard.

Custard, or rather  a mixture of cornstarch and water called "oobleck" after a Doctor Seuss story, is an old home ed standby.  It's possible to jump on it without sinking in but not to walk on it in the same way.  This means, for example, that you can let your hand sink into a jug of oobleck and then lift the jug by raising your arm.

The soft, yielding parts of the human body are often also non-Newtonian, notably women's breasts.  Convincing artificial breasts are therefore not good if they're just made from balloons inflated with air or water.  It would be better to make them with custard:

That didn't go particularly well.  Nor did it go particularly badly.

Here's a second video on the evolution and social significance of breasts and breastfeeding:

Not sure how that went yet as i've not edited or watched it.  Anyway, the main point of this video is to talk about why humans have breasts and the evolution of breastfeeding, along with the significance of female breasts in Western culture.

More generally, i'm working on coming across more spontaneously, and that at least seems to be going well.

Monday, 17 September 2012

For Womanhood and the Empire!

I am of course mainly blogging and making YouTube videos as a form of procrastination upon procrastination.  For some reason i am continuing not to understand, i can upload any old rubbish to my other channel and get masses of views very quickly, but take care and thought over what i stick on the main one and get very few.  I really wish i knew why this happened.

Anyway, here's today's video:

It's called "Steampunk for Womanhood and the Empire!" and needs a bit of context.  When you watch a YouTube video, you get the option to read captions, which are generated by computer from the audio.  These captions are very bad indeed, and seem to have an accuracy below 1%, though i presume they're working on improving it.  When this happens, i will be rather sad because this kind of thing will be impossible.  This is nostalgia waiting to be born.  It reminds me of when i put the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales through Microsoft Word 5's spellcheck and it claimed to be about something it referred to as the "yoga zone".

Speech recognition is an AI-hard problem.  Back in the day, it was thought that thinking machines (a term once in vogue describing computers) would be difficult to program to do things which humans find difficult.  This turned out not to be so.  Instead, many problems thought to be hard to solve were in fact relatively easy and things which humans find so easy they don't even notice they're doing them are still impossible in spite of the Moore-corrected hundreds of millions of years which have passed since the first electronic brains were built.  Into the former category falls chess and arguably psychotherapy.  For years now, computers have been better than any human will ever be at chess, although it took a while for that to happen and the solution is rather boringly that rather than thinking about it, they just try a huge number of possible moves before making the best.  However, they've only recently been able to walk, they can't really see the way we can and, as the above video demonstrates, they don't understand spoken human languages and can't transcribe it.  This is particularly surprising because computers have been able to "understand" FORTRAN and other programming languages, which resemble English, since the mid-1950s.

To some extent machines are able to transcribe human speech.  In the 1960s there was a speech typewriter which could produce type in response to someone speaking Morse code to it - the human would go "dit dah dit" and it would type an R, for example.  The IBM Shoebox was another example (from 1961!):

This system worked by exploiting the fact that every English spoken digit had its own combination of high- and low-pitched sounds in a particular pattern.  The IBM Shoebox example inspired my mechanical speech recognition calculator in 'You Could've Thought Of That'.  So machines can recognise certain forms of speech provided they're quite narrowly restricted, and in fact given a less software-based approach they can be better than computers at the same level of technology.

This raises the question of what kind of object a human being is.  It's tempting to see a human as a robot controlled by a computer, but the fact that what we find easy, computers find hard and vice versa suggests that although human beings are sort of robots, they are not robots controlled by computers but, if they are machines at all, and as lumps of matter we are in a sense machines, the intelligent things we do are not the result of computer programs at all, and we probably aren't computers either.  This suggests to me that there is something out there in technology phase space which is in fact an Artificial Intelligence device, but it's nothing like a computer, though like a human being it could simulate one - but then a computer can also simulate a rain storm, but nobody gets wet if it does.

The actual story

This is an award-winning steampunk short-short i wrote which parodies Victorian melodrama in an alternate nineteenth century.  I've deliberately obscured the content but as it happens, hiding somewhere on YouTube is a video of me reading the real story.  It will be in the ebook, but the ebook is of course written by a different version of me than the version you see here because i want it to succeed alone, without anyone who reads it actually knowing me.  The use of the knife in the middle of the story makes no sense in this video but does in context.

Just to fill in the background:  this is similar to my "Backward and Forward" alternate history on the Althist Wiki on Wikia.  Technology is more advanced than here because James Watt was sent to school (in reality he was home educated and ended up improving Newcomen-style steam engines) and James II's son, James Stuart, Duke of Cambridge, survived to become James II's heir, with the result that there was no Act of Settlement.  Ultimately, this results in the European empires staying in power into the twenty-first century and colonising the Solar System at the same time as retaining a pre-Enlightenment political system with no real parliamentary democracy and the death penalty for shoplifting.  It's a nasty place, Backward and Forward - the Third Reich and Hitler would just be another power there and would probably be perceived as rather too liberal.  The story i read in "For Womanhood and the Empire!" is from a somewhat similar world, but one in which the future Queen Victoria was assassinated in a coup and a republic was established in the British Isles.

Yesterday evening's video was very different:

This is "Going The Extra Chamomile For You", the second of my herbal videos and also the first of a series based on terrible puns.  This video is entirely candlelit in an attempt to create the calm, restful atmosphere which chamomile generates.  Chamomile was our friend when Holly was a baby.  It kept us all calm, kept her botty smooth and helped with her conjunctivitis.  Chamomile is brilliant stuff.  If you haven't already become a fan, try it now!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The weirdness of slight fame

People want to be famous.  In fact, nowadays they seem to want to be famous just for the sake of it and probably expect to get money and power with it, or something, maybe sex.  Yes, probably that too.  Not something which occurs to me.  Anyway, here's this:

We are very slightly famous on occasion (despite my apparent complete lack of telegenicity ^^^^).  Namely, the children have been on the TV and newspapers, i've been in TV documentaries and news and current affairs programmes and Liz has of course been in magazines and newspapers and on the TV because, to quote "Black Books", she quaffs pints of her own whizz (or is it "wizz"?).  However, fame is a weird thing because it just goes off on its own and has a life of its own, apparently.  You don't have any control on what you're famous for, and the things for which you are known float away and have a life of their own, which is hard to handle because you sort of put stuff out there and then people draw their own conclusions about who you are.

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote about this in his story Borges y Yo.  He describes the situation of writing stories for publication and having knowledge of the stranger out there whom everyone calls Borges.  It's a short-short and he notes at the end that he doesn't know who has written the story.  He also notes that he finds himself pompous and annoying and i share this dissatisfaction with him about the other person depicted up there who did this video.  I'm also irritated by the person who wrote this blog, and i wonder if they're the same person in fact.  Maybe this blog is actually written by someone who is stalking the person uploading the YouTube vids, though goodness knows why they think it's worth the effort.  They are both me of course, and neither of them are me.  For more on this aspect, you might want to read the story itself here:

There's also a PDF on certain philosophical aspects of the story here:

However, i also afflict Liz with this problem.  For years after we married, i used to have the occasional experience of seeing a real woman in the distance (these were not hallucinations - the people i saw really existed so far as i know but in a sense that doesn't matter) and mistake it for Liz.  The following thought would then occur:  "Hmm, that looks like Liz Gray.  I wonder what she's doing nowadays."  This impression finally faded when i observed her as part of a training course in adult education.  I sat in on one of her excellent Yoga classes and took notes, and i finally discovered what that figure in the distance with whom i was vaguely acquainted was doing:  she had become an excellent Yoga teacher.

Once i had had that experience, my previous weird impression that Liz was both my wife and a virtual stranger i hardly knew was gone.  I knew what had become of that stranger and that she was both a Yoga teacher and my wife.

I have this image of our rather weedy, pathetic fame which is constantly on the blink and needs the occasional thump to keep the picture from constantly flickering as being a long stick with us at one end and "us" at the other.  It seems absurdly easy to generate tiny bits of fame but it doesn't matter at all, they seem to mean very little and have no apparent connection with any kind of success.  Also, they seem to move along railway lines and we can't control the brakes or the points.  Fame is a train, not an off-the-road vehicle.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Cinnamon Challenge?

Just to give away the ending, i didn't do the cinnamon challenge, partly because i'm not a teenage boy any more, partly because it's no longer as popular and i'd look really out of date, and partly because, as i explain in the video, it's a fourfold overdose of cinnamon.  Anyway, here's today's video (whose framing is better than the thumbnail suggests!):

The point of this is basically that the cinnamon challenge acknowledges that herbs can have a profound effect on the body.  There's also a bit of a panic associated with it.  It is true that it's a risky thing to do, but that's because of the physical effect of any powder - it will irritate the throat, it can be harmful if inhaled and so forth, but the same is true of flour.  In larger doses, cinnamon may have direct adverse toxicological actions and the cinnamon challenge is something like a fourfold overdose compared to the maximum recommended dose of 1.2 grammes of the powder.  From this very fact though, it can be seen how safe herbalism often is:  you wouldn't want to take four times the maximum recommended dose of quite a few over-the-counter drugs for a start.

Cinnamon is also relevant to 'Here Be Dragons'.  In ancient and mediaeval Europe, there was an idea that spices, including cinnamon, came from a vaguely defined area called Arabia Felix, which in contradiction to current climatological beliefs was thought to be a warm, humid place with tropical rainforests.  In this environment lived, among many other species, the cinnamon tree with its cinnamon fruits and in its branches nested the Cinnamologus:

This was a bird whose nest was made from cinnamon and therefore could be fetched by throwing stuff at it.  The cinnamon tree itself was too difficult to climb due to fragile branches.

Clearly i need to insert the Cinnamologus into 'Here Be Dragons'.  As it happens, there's a happy coincidence (Coincidencia Felix?) in 'Here Be Dragons' regarding Arabia Felix.  Here's a map of Eurasia in the 'Here Be Dragons' "Ancient World":

In order to accommodate the legend of Hyperborea as a warm continent in the Arctic regions, i decided to flip the planet round so that the land concerned was still "north" but largely tropical, while mainly preserving the climate of western Europe.  It so happened that doing this makes Arabia a tropical rainforest.  Therefore, a serendipitous coincidence enables Arabia Felix to exist as well as Hyperborea in Ancient World.

A few technical comments on the video.  The framing is somewhat off because i needed to include the plate of cinnamon in the picture.  I am still umming too much but am working on this.  Finally, although i am now using a tripod, i have yet to take the plunge and do much proper video editing.  I now have a version of Linux called AVLinux, which is specialised for multimedia applications, and am trying to pluck up the courage to use it properly.  This will somewhat improve the quality of my videos but i don't want to do the excessive thing which i know i'd be tempted to do and add loads of flashy effects which do too much.  Sadly, AVLinux seems to have been discontinued and this version, which was released last month, will probably be the last.

Friday, 14 September 2012

It's the best of jobs, it's the worst of jobs

I've said this before but not in this way:

Herbalism - the maintenance and improvement of health through the use of plants.  Some things are covered by this which shouldn't be, for instance you might improve health by using plants to clear the atmosphere of formaldehyde, benzene and ammonia, by creating a landscape garden or using a park as a city's "green lung", but this is specifically to do with herbalism as a narrowly medically defined approach to health.

Incidentally, this is the first video i've done using a tripod and i had endless trouble with it.  Whereas the tripod itself was very useful, the batteries ran out towards the end and on editing it, Avidemux and Windows Movie Maker both screwed it up several times.  Therefore, there are rather more um's and er's in this than i would ideally like, but i'm working to a tight schedule and ended up posting it as is.

My points are threefold really.  One is that research has shown that most of the general public do not know that herbalists exist or what we do, in spite of strenuous efforts to remedy this, so i thought it would be helpful to do a video which went through this in detail.  Another is the major discrepancy between the scepticism shown towards herbalism along with the research apparently showing that it doesn't work and my own measurable findings which occur after people consult me and i give them herbs.  That's an ethical red herring and in fact there's even an argument for herbalism being a good thing if it doesn't work.  Finally, there are two real ethical problems associated with herbalism which are rarely mentioned.  One is that seeing someone who hoards information about health doesn't ultimately help the client, and the other is that given the fact, widely known among herbalists, that it is nearly always impossible to make a living as a herbalist, the tacit pretence that it is cannot be justified.  Candidates of herbal medicine courses need to be told, before they start the course, that the chances of them being able to use their degrees professionally rather than as general degrees like English or History, are practically zero. a

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Is Donna Noble's soul a magic Mars bar?

First of all, credit to charlieissocoollike for the idea of the magic Mars bar (other chocolate bars are available too):

The basic idea is that filesharing is less immoral than stealing Mars bars because the latter involve a lot of work to produce each time, but files such as music or videos, or ebooks for that matter, will still be available after they are "stolen".  Douglas Adams might say they're freemantled.  As it happens, Adams himself had one of his ideas freemantled - Cannock Chase - and was not amused, so maybe he wouldn't, but then again H2G2's plot is reminiscent of "Kilgore Trout"'s 'Venus On the Half-Shell', so i'm not sure he's in a position to complain.

Another thing Douglas Adams did, of course, was write three excellent Doctor Who adventures and edit Doctor Who scripts for several years.  Then Jon Nathan-Turner showed up and, according to some, decided to ruin the whole thing, resulting in it being taken off air.  A few years after it came back, Donna Noble appeared as the Doctor's companion. In an episode referred to as 'Silence In The Library'...


 ...she suffered what Adams would call a "total existence failure" and woke up in a virtual world as herself.  The Doctor later found a way to restore her to existence, but of course by that point she had in a sense been replaced by an identical copy, a fact about which he seemed rather relaxed.  Some might say she had died and been replaced by an identical copy with all her memories intact, but now of course in a sense false.


Back to the magic Mars bars, and of course the question of selling your soul (forgot to mention that).  Souls are apparently like magic Mars bars, because when you sell it on Ebay its still there to sell and unless you have either a contract or maybe uniquely numbered bits of soul like Voldemort or someone might do.  Therefore, clearly souls are intellectual property and when you sell them to the Devil, you sign a contract.  You might do something similar when you join a religion.

Now my suggestion is that the Doctor was so relaxed about Donna's recreation from a completely different set of materials with no overlap because he does something similar when he regenerates.  I see a regeneration as like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly:  the Doctor's matter rearranges, so far into a similar form in the sense of being a white male humanoid, but with potential new characteristics such as ginger hair or no legs.  Clearly the tenth Doctor didn't "want to go", so it's not a case of simply changing your face.  Major physical characteristics can change too - Romanadvoratrelundar, for example, was at one point a blue dwarf for a few seconds (a life form, by the way, not a star).

So there are a number of issues here.  Firstly, this version of a soul is a culturally constructed thing and seems to have nothing to do with consciousness, an afterlife or reincarnation.  Secondly, it constitutes one's identity in the same way as the Doctor is the "same" person throughout all his regenerations, and even apparently Donna through her experiences, of which there are many.

This is the sense in which i mean soul, and it's even possible that i use the word in this sense when i think about the afterlife and the resurrection.

I realise that there's a poor fit between the two parts of this video.  I have had a tendency for things not to link up well when i've done them, and that's happened here too, so in future, as well as getting better at making videos from a technical perspective, i will also endeavour to do some joined up planning.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Blue soda bread and home science

One of the brilliant things you can do at home, which is also really colourful, is make your own pH indicator from red cabbage water.  Here's a particular use for it which occurred to me the other day:

Making naturally blue soda bread.

The way this works is that so-called "red" cabbage (which i think of as purple) is very high in an anthocyanin.  The word "anthocyanin" is from the Greek words anthos flower, and kyanos - blue.  Anthocyanins are in fact not necessarily blue but all sorts of colours.  They are also useful in herbal medicine.  For instance, the skins of Sambucus nigra (elder) berries are high in anthocyanins which soothe the throat and are useful in coughs and sore throats.  They are almost entirely tasteless and occur in a wide range of flowering plants with the exception of the Caryophyllales, a large order containing such plants as beetroot and cacti, which instead contain betalains.  These two types of compound are never found in the same species.

Anthocyanins are derived from other compounds called anthocyanidins, whose molecular structure can be drawn like this:

The red numbers show where variations occur in the structure.

The substances occur in petals, leaves and some other parts of the plant, in vacuoles, which are "bubbles" of unorganised liquid surrounded by membrane inside the cells.  The acidity or alkalinity of the liquid determines the colour.  They are also responsible for the colour of some fruit, such as the redness of ripe apples.  They may also stop animals which are attracted to green plant parts, which they then eat, from consuming flower petals, and they also attract pollinating insects to flowers.  Their precise shade of purple is complementary to the green of leaves, so they don't block any light which the plant could use for photosynthesis.  This also means that the older photosynthetic organisms with which the plants had to complete billions of years ago would have been exactly that shade of purple too, so if we ever get to another planet where that quirk in the history of life didn't happen, we'd be quite likely to find that the plants were all the colour of anthocyanins, though only if the star the planet orbited was the same colour as the Sun.


Another aspect of anthocyanins is that they form the purple dye colour which is the easiest rich colour to use on cloth in natural dyeing.  Cotton, for example, dyed with elderberries is initially such a strong colour that it looks completely artificial.  Unfortunately, it also fades much faster in sunlight, probably for that reason.  They are sadly quite unstable.

As you can see from the video, anthocyanins are also excellent indicators.  They turn red in acid and blue-green in alkali.  In a strong caustic soda solution, about which i will soon make a video, they become orange.  The reaction between the sodium bicarbonate and lime juice, incidentally, produces a sodium citrate, of which there are three different types, and releases carbon dioxide, which occurs when any alkaline carbonate is combined with an acid.  Disodium citrate can be used to reduce the discomfort of cystitis and urethritis, and is one of the approximately twenty compounds which can easily be made at home from common organic acids and alkali and alkali earth metal compounds.  Compounds which are combinations of acids and bases are known as salts, so the sodium citrates are good examples of organic salts.

The other thing about all this is that the soda bread, which to be honest i perceive as pale turquoise rather than green or blue, is an example of a blue food.  Genuinely strong blue foods have long been an obsession of mine because there are so few of them, and the ones which are claimed to be blue or called blue usually aren't, such as blueberries, pasta coloured with squid ink or "blue corn".  However, there are a few foods which are genuinely blue, and this is one of them, though being soda bread it's probably partly antinutritional.  Another food which would be blue for the same reasons if it existed would be the Finnish salmiakki, which is high in sal ammoniac or ammonium chloride, mixed with liquorice:

  Besides that, there are rather few, but they would include cornflower or borage petals and raw bruised Boletus fungi:


Borage - Borago officinalis - i actually use this quite a lot, partly for its fatty acids.  There are pyrrolizidine alkaloids in it though, so i'm not incredibly keen, and it tends to go off very quickly which is also annoying.

Boletus - don't know which species, but they turn distinctively blue on cutting.  Not all are edible though, either

Anyway, i don't seem to share the general aversion to blue food and was only fearful of the blue soda bread because i was expecting it to taste like a combination of cabbage and bicarbonate of soda, but surprisingly it turned out to taste absolutely fine and was really nice.  I think i just got lucky with the quantity of soda though.

Unfortunately, this is the second time i've made something non-vegan for a YouTube video in a week, so i need to make amends in some way.

Monday, 10 September 2012

It's about time

This is an experiment in vlogging.  What i'd normally write in this blog i've posted as a vlog entry on YouTube instead.

The video is about monochronic and polychronic time, and also refers to other aspects of attitudes to time which i didn't cover, but will here.  If you want to know what i have to say about education and polychronic and monochronic time, i suggest you watch the video.

One of the things i didn't go into is the distinction between linear and cyclical time and the directions in which these are seen as flowing.  Time for many literate English speakers is either seen as flowing from left to right or the observer is seen as moving forwards through time.  When seen as cyclical, that cycle is seen as clockwise.  Another aspect of English references to time is that they perceive fractions of units as having passed since the previous unit and tend to think in terms of time elapsed since the past more than time remaining until an event, though this is a fairly minor tendency compared to the others.  Time cycles in Anglo-Saxon perception also seem to be presented as vertically moving circles in front of the observer, for instance a clock face or circular calendar.

How could things be understood differently and what would it mean if they were?

Firstly, time could easily be seen as cyclical.  This would be particularly the case if we think in terms of waking and sleeping, seasons and the life cycle, and clearly personal and practical needs seem to be more satisfiable if time is thought of in this way.  It would also be possible to think of longer time periods in this way, such as the orbit of the Sun through the Galaxy or a possible oscillating Universe where the end wraps round to the beginning, a currently unpopular idea in cosmology, so scale is not the only issue. To me, this seems to be a more personal view of time than a linear view.  Permanence is more easily conceivable in a linear view, and as a result linear time can be seen as suggesting progress or regression, or simply directionlessness, whereas a wheel of time seems to be going somewhere in a predictable and repetitive way and all changes which are not given are temporary, but will return and are never permanently lost.

Progress and regression are clearly present in Western ways of looking at things.  Judaeo-Christian eschatology for a start sometimes sees history as starting with the creation of the Universe and ending with Armageddon, the Apocalypse and Doomsday.  This has been inherited into Marxism and progressive politics as looking forward to a Utopia here in the physical world.  Whereas i am a great believer in Utopia, this idea seems to be hijacked by groups and individuals pretending to be progressive which are in fact narrowly focussed on telling people whose lives they don't understand or empathise with what to do.  It's clear what i have in mind here but can be applied more widely.

Sticking with linear timeflow for a bit, it needn't be seen as passing events and the word "past" and similar words used in other languages such as "Vergangenheit" are not the only ways to refer to what has already happened.  As they stand, they clearly use a spatial metaphor which sees the subject as moving forwards and passing events, or in the German case, events which go past.  Similarly, the future is seen as in front of the subject.  This is an odd way of looking at it, because in general we have eyes in the front of our heads and see what's behind us less easily than what's in front - we have to turn our heads at least to do so.  However, our memories are clearer to us than what has yet to happen, so in a way it would be more logical to talk about the past as being in front of us and the future as behind, but into which we are moving in reverse.

An option might be to see time as moving from left to right in front of us, which makes time seem like a story because we write and read from right to left.  This temporal metaphor is reflected in the progress bar for the video at the beginning of this post, and it might lead us to think of a period as as having a story-like beginning, middle and end, which is not always so.  It could also proceed in the opposite direction but we rarely use this because we write the other way.

My view of time is that we are falling face upwards into the future.  Time moves downwards because it's an irresistible force like gravity, we can see the past better than the future and time goes faster as we age, so that strikes me as the most straightforward way of seeing it, but it's easy to see that as quite negative because falling for decades will end in death, the past is more significant than anything else and there seems to be no foresight or free will.  The alternative in that dimension would be rising face down like a rocket or helium balloon, something i haven't explored.

Turning to cyclical time, it seems to me that clockwise or counterclockwise time are equal.  The difference there is insignificant because space itself is not essentially left- or right-handed, so time isn't either, though space at least can be made "crooked" and given a direction as discussed in 'Here Be Dragons'.  Linear time has direction built in but cyclical time lacks it.

To simplify cyclical time, the subject could be moving with it, giving it a side view, observing it like a clock face or doing so as a sundial, or even standing motionless at its centre while it moves around one.  This last aspect corresponds to our experience of the daily cycle and the seasons, and feels like we are involved in it, as does the passivity of being taken for a ride through time, though that ride is in a way more reassuring than the linear ride since both past and future are known.  Clockfaces are like sundials, so looking down and across seems to make little difference to perception:  they would be omniscient but detached views of time.  A slight difference is the sense of superiority one might feel at looking down on cyclical time.  The other option is hard to conceive.  The wheel of time is seen from the side, "passing" horizontally or vertically.  These give the impression of being half-hidden, which corresponds again to our mortality or the fact that we are not constantly awake.  With the vertical view, direction is significant because half of time is then not only advancing and the other half receding, but also overlapping other halves are rising and falling, and it depends on the orientation whether that rising and falling is visible or invisible.  Vertical time is also more significantly divided into top and bottom halves, one advancing, the other receding.

There are also intermediate wheels of time which are diagonal or oblique, which are harder to conceive!

One thing i've not mentioned here is the question of past, present and future as such and another, which I think is hugely significant, is the issue of making temporally asymmetrical assumptions as expressed by such phrases as "any more", "nowadays" or "turned a corner".

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Village That Raised Our Children

More splurging today i'm afraid, due to starting this post on the mini-tablet, which rather unhelpfully just saved this locally and i'm now copying.  At least that means this had a first draft for once.

Yesterday i briefly mentioned my slight unease at continuing to see myself as part of the home ed community now that the children are both at college, because now i no longer home educate in the commonly understood sense, although of course i still home educate because everyone does and it isn't even home education and so on, blah blah, you know the spiel.  One possible danger of course is that i could lose touch, to the extent that i was ever in touch in the first place, with approaches apt to appeal to children.  There are, however, a couple of reasons why that might not be so.

One of these is that i may only ever have been in limited touch with the needs of children anyway, and in fact due to my moderate but not total commitment to autonomous education, this could be said to be unnecessary in any case, though a varied life wherein one is able and willing to include children is probably important.  Against this might be set the fact that many children with this way of life spend so little time actually at home as opposed to hanging out or sleeping over at other children's homes or doing other stuff with them that their inclusion in the lives of other children and adults might make this less important.  We have a village which raises children in this community, both physically and virtually present, and we are not just families doing things in isolation unless it either suits us to do so, we are unlucky or we have been artificially isolated by a hostile social climate as engendered by, for example, local authorities scaring people into hiding or insufficient publicity regarding the reality of this approach to parenting.

One of the failures of school is that it severs the connection between adults and children and segregates them.  Part of that severance involves teachers being in loco parentis while being relatively unable to establish a natural rapport with the children, often through no fault of their own.  Now, i of course do offer science, maths and other workshops for children who are not mine, and this is potentially questionable.  It can lead to problems and is in danger of drifting towards schooling, something against which i strive.  However, it differs in various ways from teaching.  I am not waylaid by red tape and bureaucracy, by syllabi or curricula or by fear of bullying from the children.  However, i see this as being part of the village.  I must remain vigilant not to become "teachery", which is a risk in this situation.

One way in which i'm now trying to sidestep this issue is by attempting to participate in education in other ways.  To this end, i am embarking on a concerted effort to make a series of educational YouTube videos.  This project is still in its early stages and i am still learning how to put good videos together, and it is of course "no substitute for hands on" but they will improve and i also plan to link them, for people who are interested, to topic areas in the National Curriculum - it is a fact that some people do pay attention to that and i don't judge them for that although i had little interest in it myself.  For those who are interested, here are the links to the two i've made so far which have not been deleted, both about soap making:

and the second, which is more about the science (and how cheaply soap can be made!):

The other way in which i'm pursuing education, of course, is through writing books.  I have plans for a number of these.  So far, i've published one:  'You Could've Thought Of That', whose children's edition will soon be available from (where the adult edition is already available here:  The second one is of course 'Here Be Dragons', a bestiary and atlas which aims both to entertain and inform.  Also, of course i plan to continue the science and maths sessions, and if possible start new ones on other subjects such as classical languages and philosophy if the interest is there, for as long as at least one child wants me to do so.

So what am i saying?  I suppose that you can all rest assured that i will try to make sure i stay in touch with the needs of children, and that i hope you still see me as part of your village

Thursday, 6 September 2012

We all benefit from education

Maybe this should become a regular blog.  What do you think?  Bettina doesn't like blogs, but i don't know why.

Back in the mid-'80s, there was an education bill called GERBILL - the Great Education Reform Bill.  It introduced the National Curriculum, Key Stages, abolished academic tenure, started City Technology Colleges (and in fact my old secondary school became one) and various other things which at the time i thought were bad, and in fact i still maintain that they were quite negative and should be revoked.  At the time, I was involved in a campaign against it and was carting a petition around to be signed.  A major issue at the time was the possibility of the replacement of student grants with loans, which was phased in from 1990 though through different legislation.  Also at the time, i was of dramatically different opinions regarding what i would at the time have called home education - I felt that traditional nuclear families were automatically bad and had too much power, and would tend to screw children up for life.

While getting signatures for the petition, i was confronted by a Tory law student who said to me that he thought it was only fair that the beneficiaries of higher education should pay for it.  I replied that since the whole of society benefitted from higher education, i agreed completely and therefore felt reassured that he did in fact believe that it should be paid via grants rather than loans.  He had no answer for that.

Unsurprisingly, my opinions have changed to the extent that i am not now convinced that any kind of university education is appropriate in its current form, judging by the apparent tendency of higher education to reduce the quality of teaching and resources and the assumption that so-called "higher" education is the best possible education compared to others, among other things.  Nevertheless, I would still say that the whole of society benefits from higher education and in fact from education at a "lower" level and younger ages.

Let's go back to GERBILL for a moment.  Two of the measures it introduced were the National Curriculum and Key Stages.  A few years later, i would be writing lesson plans based on these (long story), and was disappointed by the low level of achievement they expected and the low level of involvement they seemed likely to engender.  These changes seem to mark the beginning of the sharp decline in the quality of school education which continues today, and were the first of many reasons which ultimately led to my conversion to the idea of home education, or rather, my resolve to make the children aware of their choice to attend school or not so that they could take that decision themselves.  One of the reasons for this was that the changes in education meant that, imperfect though it was, the net benefit to society from schooling was considerably reduced.

Therefore, it now makes sense more than ever to say that education otherwise than at school is of greater benefit to society than at least state schools, per child at least.  For instance, a society in which language does not exist might be pre-Palaeolithic in nature.  Learning would be minimally passed down from parents to children or through tribes and most would be lost.  Signed and spoken language more than anything else is what makes us human and is substantially the domain of "home" education - a child which fails to learn to use language before a certain age will apparently become incapable of doing so later, or at least find it much harder to acquire grammar.  The same applies to various other things children learn to do before reaching the age of compulsory education, and in fact, though to me it sounds unquantifiable, they are said to learn more than half of what they will ever learn by the age of two.  In that sense if no other, "home education" makes the biggest contribution of all to the common good.

However, we all know that when people use the term "home education", they usually mean the education of children of compulsory education age without any attendance at school for lessons.  This also contributes to the common good to a greater extent than schooling because children in those circumstances learn the kind of things as is exemplified by the "Three R's" and the explicit content of curricula more quickly and thoroughly than their peers at school, though not necessarily earlier or in the same order,because they are motivated when they learn, can do so at their own pace and level and the like.  They also miss out on much of the harmful learning which occurs in schools and which has increased in recent years, that learning is boring, irrelevant, difficult and so forth, and they also miss out on learning how total institutions work and various other things.  These are the kinds of things which are not in the common good.  They lead to students who plagiarise because they are not enthusiastic about their learning and fail to make a connection between it and their lives.  This is harmful to them and harmful to us all.  It can be largely avoided simply by not going to school, and results in adults more likely to have qualities such as self-motivation, independence, resourcefulness, creativity, imagination and vision to a greater degree.  Such people are better for the common good.

Why am i saying this now?  Well, first of all of course, the offspring are now both at college, which makes me feel that i am to some extent now an interloper in home ed, though that's a topic for another post.  However, just as back in Thatcher's day it was argued that the students were mere consumers of an education that benefitted only them rather than society, it is clear to me now that education which omits schooling is of greater benefit to us all than education which is considered to consist only of schooling, particularly when that schooling is of the kind which impairs truly inspiring and charismatic teachers and destroys the enthusiasm and interest of students because they bear the brunt of policy decisions made from on high.  This brings me to the other point:  just as Ed Balls had it in for us a couple of years ago, so today the Welsh Government is trying to do the same.  This from a nation on which the Welsh Knot was imposed.  There's a reason why Welsh English lacks a postvocalic R - it was imposed by Anglophone school authorities.  Welsh children, having acquired their native language through home education, then had it beaten out of them by the teachers.  The Welsh Government is now trying to do the same by insisting on the same irrational, fallaciously-based regime of monitoring education out of existence just as the British government destroyed the Welsh language two centuries previously.  I wonder what the Welsh for hypocrisy is.