Friday, 9 October 2015

Pauses for a tincture

 “Oh, she is dead I dead!" cried Eugenie, looking down at the still face. "No; she can’t be. Brandy—bring some brandy!"

A servant entered with the brandy, and Eugenie, filling a glass, forced some of the liquid between Kitty’s clenched teeth. Naball also took a glass, as he was worn-out with the struggle, then, hastily putting on his hat, went out, leaving Kitty lying, to all appearances dead, in Eugenie’s arms.
Fergus Hume - Miss Mephistopheles (1890)

In prolific writer Fergus Hume I hoped for a supply of holiday reading but I’ve given up on him. In the above quote, Naball is the detective trying to solve a murder and a jewel theft. This dramatic scene is the final denouement.

Two villains and Naball are all fighting each other. The villains rush off through French windows, one chasing the other into the night. What does Naball do? He’s worn-out with the struggle so he pauses for a reviving tincture. When he finally pops his hat on to give chase, the villains have resumed fighting on nearby railway tracks where a handy train finishes them off.

No - it just doesn’t work. I don’t mind a touch of melodrama, but Naball the dapper and gimlet-eyed detective ought to be at least as fit as two middle-aged villains. Sherlock Holmes, knowing all about the approaching train, would have shouted “after them Watson” and plunged out into the night. 

Some of it isn't bad, but as with many second-rate writers he needed a better editor. No more Fergus Hume for me. Pity.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Evans, it's another black box

Sackers recently sent me a link about David Evan’s climate theory.

Dr Evans has a theory: solar activity. What he calls “albedo modulation”, the waxing and waning of reflected radiation from the Sun, is the likely cause of global warming.

A summary of his initial work can be found here and later work is here - far too much to summarise in a single blog post. The work is certainly interesting, but as with many climate claims the first issue is whether or not it deserves attention. The second is how much?.

The basic problem is that there is no such thing as climate science and no such tribe as climate scientists even though we use the terms in order to take part in the debate. In reality there are many specialist climate areas and many specialist scientists but unlike more established sciences, climatology hasn’t yet reached a state of overall coherence. There is no climate equivalent of the periodic table.

An alternative to absorbing the minutiae of Dr Evan’s approach is to treat the whole thing as a black box. This in no way implies that the Evans theory is not worth studying for anyone so inclined. The black box approach is merely a practical way to tackle the incoherence problem for those of us with no strong allegiances to any particular theory. Each climate theory is treated as a black box.

It doesn’t matter what is in the box.
It doesn’t matter who built it.
It doesn’t matter who endorses it.
Predictive performance is what matters.

So Dr Evan’s black box passes or fails its first test between 2017 and 2021. Even if cooling occurs on cue, this black box has only passed one simple test. A coin toss could do as much. It doesn’t follow that the Evans box will pass any other tests.

This testing process could go on for decades, but so what? Science is merely a complex way of saying “if you do this you see this”, so that’s how we test assertions about the future. We wait. Scientists may prefer us to admire their lovingly crafted box before it passes any test whatever, but that’s another and much older story - human behaviour.

Having said that, Dr Evans is in my view an interesting chap. I've been following his posts from the beginning because we need such people if we are to make progress. We need to find the climate equivalent of the periodic table because as yet we don't have it. 

Perhaps 2017 will give us our first clue but don't bet on it. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Car indicators

This morning found me in the car waiting at a traffic island. Another car driven by a chap with a big beard approached from the right with his left-hand indicator going, suggesting he was about to turn down the road where I patiently waited. As far as I know the beard isn’t relevant.

Anyhow, instead of assuming beardy would actually turn left I waited, just in case. For some reason the subtle clues which tell us these things had come into play, suggesting to me that waiting was a good idea. The clues were right. He carried on across the island and if I’d pulled out we’d have hit each other.

Far from unusual, happens all the time, but a chap is bound to ask if indicators are really worthwhile. We can’t just believe them and carry on regardless so we don’t. If an approaching car is far enough away we go, if it isn't we are more cautious but we trust indicators at our peril.

We have moderate our faith in indicators with defensive driving and those subtle clues which generally keep us out of accidents. In which case why bother with indicators?

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Monday, 5 October 2015

Blasé sheep

From yesterday's walk, a view of Carsington Water from the surrounding hills. It appears misty because it was, the mist didn't lift until later. The photo doesn't bring out how beautiful the view was even if the sheep isn't paying much attention. Seen it before I suppose.

Meanwhile we have the 5p tax on supermarket bags unless you happen to be buying goldfish. Perhaps somebody wants us to be sheep too. Mr Wolf probably. 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Sugar on poverty

Lord Sugar thinks real poverty no longer exists

Lord Sugar says there's no such thing as real poverty in 21st century Britain

Lord Sugar says today's poor have never had it so good, with mobile phones, computers and televisions making a mockery of claims of deprivation

He is certainly right if poverty is to be taken as absolute poverty where starvation knocks at the door. Starvation poverty is a thing of the past but climbing out of it still lies within living memory. Anyone of a certain age can recall what would now be seen as severe and widespread poverty. I don't recall starvation poverty because I’m not that old, but I recall the climbing and I do recall my great uncle telling us how his family cooked sparrows when times were hard.

So Alan Sugar is right in that sense. I grew up in a household with no fridge, freezer, TV, music system, central heating, phone, car or dishwasher. We only had one holiday a year but in our own eyes we weren’t poor. The real poor lived elsewhere and had even less. Not being politically correct we called their offspring “the dirty kids” and avoided them socially.

Unfortunately human behaviour is what it is and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. We copy others, measure ourselves against them and this gives us a second and perfectly legitimate view of poverty. Poverty can be relative. We were not poor when compared with "the dirty kids".

The problem is we use the same word for two different things with two different but overlapping impacts. Too many people try to make political capital from confusing two types of poverty and from the disputes which naturally arise, which is probably what pisses off Lord Sugar.

To my mind he should not be pissed off by it. Inequality is probably necessary to generate a degree of dynamism in societies, but too much of it causes too much social division even when those at the bottom of the pile have mobile phones and humongous TVs. The rich and powerful loose touch and that's another problem we don't know how to tackle.

Friday, 2 October 2015

You didn’t say ‘peanut’

One of the most enduring games in Grandson’s school playground is one I played sixty years ago. In the fifties we called ‘tick n’hit’. Grandson calls it ‘tig’ but there are many other names.

From Wikipedia -
Tag (also known as it, tip you're it or tig [in regions of Britain], and many other names) is a playground game that involves one or more players chasing other players in an attempt to "tag" or touch them, usually with their hands. There are many variations; most forms have no teams, scores, or equipment. Usually when a person is tagged, they tagger says, "Tag, you're it".

In the playground this morning one boy managed to tag another but almost before he could run off, the tagged boy shrieked triumphantly ‘you didn’t say peanut’. So that was that, he escaped because he hadn’t been legitimately tagged at all.

The rule was new to me and I've watched them play for a few years now. It still looks like fun, but it also struck me how good the game is for learning about life, for avoiding petty failures via new rules others might not be aware of, for turning an apparent fait accompli on its head at the last minute.

Learn the lesson well chaps - learn it well.