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Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

The Second Coming?

Monday, February 5th, 2007

Hatching komodo dragon

In the latter part of January, an unusual event occurred at Chester Zoo in the UK. Five of the eggs laid by one of the zoo’s female Komodo dragons last May hatched out. Two fertile eggs still remain in incubation.

The event was unusual, not so much for the hatching of the dragons in captivity, but for the fact that the dragon embryos were produced parthenogenetically. The female dragon responsible, named ‘Flora’, has never been anywhere near a male. When three eggs collapsed soon after transfer to an incubator, they were sent to Liverpool University for genetic fingerprinting, which confirmed that Flora alone was the parent. All 5 hatchlings are males, the only possible result from parthenogenetic reproduction in these lizards, but are not exact clones of Flora.

Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world and renowned for their intelligence, as well as for eating the odd human. There are thought to be only 4-5,000 left in the wild, surviving on Indonesian islands such as Rinca, Gili Motang and several of the Lesser Sunda Islands, including Komodo and Flores. The creation myths of the first human inhabitants of Komodo, the Ata Modo, tell how man and lizard came into being when the female deity Putri Naga gave birth to twins: one child human, the other a Komodo dragon.

Dragon conversations

Just before Christmas, Chester Zoo’s Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates Curator Kevin Buley announced the imminent hatching, together with the publishing of a paper in Nature which he co-authored with scientists at Liverpool University and London Zoo. He quipped “We will be on the look out for shepherds, wise men and an unusually bright star in the sky over Chester Zoo.”

Comet McNaught over Sellick's Beach, Adelaide, Jan 24 2007. Photo © David Summerhayes

Comet McNaught over S Australia.
Photo © David Summerhayes

Christmas came and went. Then around the end of the first week in January, Comet McNaught became so bright it was visible to the naked eye. The comet swung by the sun between January 12th-14th, going on to appear in the Southern Hemisphere and develop a magnificent tail clearly visible over a 30° arc at sunset. On January 15th, the first of the baby dragons hatched.

So now, following the appearance of a comet in the sky, we have a virgin birth …

The last two lines of W B Yeats’ poem The Second Coming spring to mind ?
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Tongue in cheek? You decide. It certainly doesn’t appear to be quite what certain right wing Christian fundamentalists are anticipating …

Irrational behaviour take 2

Monday, August 7th, 2006

“An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.”
Nicholas Butler

Computers too, it seems, are prone to bouts of seemingly irrational behaviour. I wonder if that’s been the subject of any systematic studies …

I was on the phone to customer services trying to sort out a solution to my daughter’s temperamental mobile phone. It was suggested I take it in for a software upgrade. Being as I’d mentioned the nearest store I knew of capable of doing this is 30 miles away, the helpful representative checked his system.

“I’m showing one much closer to you than Edinburgh.” he says. Intrigued, I asked him where, fully expecting him to say something like Galashiels which, although in the Scottish Borders, is no nearer than Edinburgh. “Penzance!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “It’s showing as only 12 miles from your location.” I don’t think he was quite prepared for the explosive hoot from my end. Made my day, it did. Penzance is only about 520 miles away from here and about as far away as you can get while still remaining in the British Isles.

On becoming a fruitarian

Friday, May 19th, 2006

“If women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn’t it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?”
Gloria Steinem

Momentary lapse into geekdom, but it has to be said …

After having lived for 23 years with the idea that a computer is just a tool, and a computer is a computer is a computer, I’ve now discovered that there are computers, and there are computers. For the last two years this household has run both a Mac and a PC. The way this worked out is that the kids got to use the Mac and I got to use the PC, so I didn’t get a whole lot of experience with the Mac, except for noting that the kids rarely seemed to need my help to do anything on it in contrast to the old family PC. Now, with Apple producing machines capable of running both OSX and Windows, I decided I could finally replace my mere-2-year-old-but-rapidly-ailing Toshiba laptop (which naturally started to develop problems the minute the warranty expired) with a brand new 17″ MacBook Pro.

No, it’s not perfect or anything mythical like that. But it is one giant leap in that direction. It all just … well … works. Even transferring my browser bookmarks, address book and mail folders was a breeze, and installing all the software and peripherals I use on a daily basis took a fraction of the time it’s taken to do the same thing in the past on a new PC with none of the inevitable hiccups, hangs and crashes.

I now understand something of the undying loyalty these machines seem to inspire in long-term users. Seems almost a shame to put Windows on it …


Tuesday, December 27th, 2005
Apprentice pillar at Rosslyn Chapel

The Apprentice pillar at Rosslyn Chapel

“No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.”
George Bernard Shaw

This Christmas a group of us went along to the Watch Night service atRosslyn Chapel, which, being as it’s on my way in and out of Edinburgh, is somewhere I quite often visit. I’m not affiliated to any organised religion, and neither am I captivated by all the Da Vinci Code-inspired hype (see for instance this recent article in the Scotsman). I like Rosslyn simply because it’s an extraordinary place: an unlikely island amidst a sea of Midlothian mining villages which have suffered similar depredations to mining communities everywhere across the UK and which are now being slowly subsumed into suburban housing developments and out-of-town shopping parks. And in the middle of all this, about midway between IKEA and the city garbage landfill site, is this ancient and tiny chapel, perched high above a deep and spectacular wooded glen that you’d never know was there until you all but fell into it. Somehow it seems emblematic of how the ancient, the natural and the metaphysical can erupt into even the most banal and materialistic of existences. The mineworkings in the area have undermined the chapel’s foundations, much in the way that industrialisation and its mechanistic perspective on life has undermined our spirit-conscious foundations, but it still stands: a crack in the veneer of post-industrial 21st century civilisation. And what a crack!

The chapel’s energy is unique and its carvings just sublime. Having worked a lot in limestone, my respect and admiration for the masons (that’sstonemasons) of 560 years ago knows no bounds. On this occasion – perhaps because of the glass or two of mulled wine we’d already enjoyed – I was reminded of the Latin inscription on the architrave which links theApprentice pillar, itself representing Yggdrasil the Norse World Ash Tree or Tree of Life, to its neighbour:

“Forte est vinum fortior est rex fortiores sunt mulieres super omnia vincit veritas.” Translated, this text (summarising a story from the First Book of Esdras, chapters 3 and 4) reads “Wine is strong; a King is stronger; women are stronger still, but truth conquers all.” Amen!

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel

Is there a big secret at Rosslyn? Treasure? Riches? I think there probably is, yes, but it’s all hiding in plain sight and doesn’t really require much digging to bring to light. Truth is usually like that. After all, what greater treasure could there possibly be than the wisdom to enable one to live a deeply fulfilling and authentic life in harmony with all aspects of existence? And what bigger secret could possibly elude the vast numbers of people struggling in misery to live up to the illusory and unrealistic images we’re given to understand are the ideals (ikeals, even?!) of modern existence? (Ideals which are, of course, largely contrived through the filters of a pervasive tyranny of the concept of “normality” pressed into the service of commercial exploitation.) As far as I can see, the secret that Rosslyn holds, both in its glorious carvings and in the wider context of its situation, is the wisdom it contains in its symbolism. It sketches out a pretty good basic recipe for an authentic life which, at the end of the day, is surely the Holy Grail of existence?

If that sounds all too disappointingly simple, consider this. Scottish composer Stuart Mitchell took 20 years to crack the design logic behind 213 cubes in the ceiling of the chapel, which he discovered encoded the notes of a piece of medieval music. Far from being something miraculous, the 6½ minute piece of music for 13 players sounds more like a nursery rhyme. Mitchell attributes its childish simplicity to the lack of musicianship of the chapel’s architect. But perhaps its simplicity, juxtaposed to the complexity of its code, is perfectly natural. We do have a tendency towards embellishment of simple powerful ideas, as if somehow driven by a desire to represent them in a manner suiting their power and splendour.

Interesting that Dan Brown‘s hero is a professor of symbology.

Season’s Greetings

Saturday, December 24th, 2005

Xmas lights animation

Wherever and however you celebrate, a very happy Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hogmanay and New Year! Here is some Christmas entertainment (link expired as of Dec 2006) for you, courtesy of the team at Reuters in Hungary.

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard