CHRIS COOPER'S BLOG - infrequent forays into fun, freedom, fysics and filosophy...

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Blogosophical Investigations
Monday, June 27, 2005  

Late last Friday night I was on a Thameslink train heading north from King's Cross. A young bloke walks down the aisle of the crowded train. Into his mobile he says – not "I'm on the train!" but – "I'm wearing a blue shirt and jeans." The rest of the conversation is lost as he vanishes, in his blue shirt and jeans.

Was he having phone sex?


On Saturday, in the public library's reference section: I was reading Stein Ringen of Oxford in the TLS, reviewing books on ending poverty:

The IMF is the world's committee of poor-law custodians. It orders those who depend on it to live as it decrees. ... It is, as poor-law custodians always were, more concerned with the behaviour of the poor than with freeing them from poverty. ... We want to relieve poverty but have not grasped the imperative of eradicating it.

And how is the IMF supposed to go about the task that Ringen accepts for them, of freeing someone from poverty without specifying their behaviour? Are they supposed to give money unconditionally to recipients who have not been able to achieve that? And if instead they impose conditions - why then presumably they're concerning themselves wih the behaviour of the poor.


The sound of a demonstration draws people to the windows of the reading area. Moslems are marching. There are a few identical printed placards to the effect that only the khilafah (I think - perhaps khalifa?) can defend Islam. There is a reference to the desecration of the Koran. Marchers read their responses to the cheerleaders from printed sheets. The march is orderly, escorted by stewards in visibility vests and a few police, with the rear brought up by a police van. The demo is very traditional in one respect: the front of the march is taken by the men, the rear by the women and children.


From 'The week on the Web' in the Times the other day:

If you plan a business trip to Chicago soon, be careful about to whom you speak.

How many hands were involved in creating that syntactic dog's breakfast? It has all the hallmarks of the crass subeditor – or the author who's been intimidated by a crass subeditor in the past.

I can imagine the stages of this utterance's descent:

... be careful who you speak to.

(the natural spoken phrase – but I wouldn't write it, in my own persona)

... be careful whom you speak to.

(I would probably write that and have to admit I might even say it.)

... be careful to whom you speak.

(If I caught myself, as editor, torturing someone's words into that shape, it would be time to Tipp-ex out the red pen and start again.)

... be careful about to whom you speak.

Whaat? Who ordered the 'about'?

Somebody tried altogether too hard on that one.

1:32 PM

(67) comments

Saturday, May 21, 2005  
Left-handed wanderings

Sorry, no hyperlinks tonight. I'm blogging from the grave - OK, I feel a bit ill - and I haven't got the energy to format this post the way I'd like. Struggling with's freaking edit window is much worse than trying to herd cats. When you try corralling kitties, they don't actually mutate, meld, or vanish into the ether. So you'll have to google for the sources of these quotes.

I've wandered through a few radical left sites tonight, beginning from Mark Kaplan's charlotte street. I was led to The Virtual Stoa. One of the delights on this site is Dead Socialist Watch, a daily listing of the anniversaries of deceased lefties, whom we are supposed to revere.

The blog entry for 13 May has this:

a fine piece in the Guardian by Greil Marcus about Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling
Stone", the greatest of his many great songs (and there's a Normblog poll to
prove it), and the problems he ran into in the same year when Dylan Went
Electric. And then he came to the UK:

>> But in the UK the sort of protests that had followed Dylan and the Hawks around
the US were organised. The Communist party had long operated a network of
Stalinist folk clubs where the songs to be sung, who could sing what, and in
what manner, was strictly controlled. The idea was to preserve the image of
the folk, whereas pop music symbolised the destruction of that community by
capitalist mass society.

> Is this true? It's terribly funny if it is. Where can I learn more?

One reply is from 'Michael', who seems quite sensible at first:

It certainly has the ring of truth to it - the English folk scene is notoriously
prone to both making arcane rules and ostracising perceived non-conformists, so
explicitly Stalinist folk clubs would appear to be not that much of a stretch.

But I'm not sure about Michael. He seems a little too enthusiast about an article he's found:

> I did a bit of digging and came up with this.

> > Salient paragraphs: These thoroughly dreary themes resonated through the CPGB's involvement with British folk music through the likes of AL Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, discussed here in the essay by Gerald Porter. The 'progressive' tradition of British radical song (traced through works such as Lloyd's Folk song in England), relied upon closely reflective interpretations of an urban and industrial landscape, rooted in modes of collective expression - often in "resistance to the status quo" (p173). MacColl, after serving his apprenticeship in agitprop formations such as Red Megaphone, actually left the CPGB in 1953 after apparently being told by a Party official that "It doesn't matter a toss what you sing: just pack the people in" (p172).

> In fact, the 'anti-formalist' approach relied upon by Lloyd and MacColl could only but reinforce such philistine sentiment. The reliance on woodenly reflective social content, and the folk movement's emphasis on group expression, impeded the CPGB's understanding of art's autonomy and concretisation through its own formal laws. Once art becomes predominantly a site for the utilisation of a specific social content this leaves the door open for what Alick West saw as its degradation for a political end. This approach also tends to freeze the aesthetic into national-centred narrowness, whilst specific artistic forms lend themselves more easily to a universal outlook. Once artistic practice becomes rooted in themes of political content, you allow for the indifference of the unnamed CPGB official in his above response to Ewan MacColl. After all, what is the point of a topical song if its message could just as easily be encapsulated in a political slogan?

The quote runs along nicely until it gets to 'concretization' and 'autonomy' and then soars off into the Marxist empyrean where simple thoughts are hoisted onto the stilts of the intellectual commissar. Hardly surprising, since it comes from 'Communist culture', by Phil Watson, which is from Weekly Worker 305, Thursday September 23 1999

I haven't the mental energy to disentangle the last part. It seems McColl is bad because he's 'antiformalist' (Stalinist, I'd say) but the Party official is bad because he's philistine. He sounds artistically tolerant to me .

9:06 PM

(2) comments

Tuesday, April 19, 2005  

No, I am not obsessed

A favourite line from Quatermass and the Pit: when Col. Breen tells Quatermass he should think about the effects on his career before he opposes the militarization of his research projects, Quatermass replies: "I don't have a career; I have my work."

I recalled this when I saw this in 'The Roots of Omnology' by Howard Bloom, in the latest Entelechy :

“Omnology,” a field for those with a gaggle of curiosities and with the potential to use their multiple intellectual and artistic hungers to provide unusual perspectives to the scientific community. …

… My hope is that those who have a taste for big-picture syntheses will be added to the community of legitimate scientists, given their own dignity, given their own budgets, given their own made-to-order, cross-disciplinary degree programs and will be recognized for their contributions.
Should omnologists be equipped with a regularized career path? Wouldn't that divert them from their work?

9:22 AM

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Saturday, April 16, 2005  

The patriarchal boffin

Found some comments on the Quatermass recreation at this BBC site. (Am I sounding obsessed?) This one, made ahead of the show, resonated with me:

I'm enormously excited by the prospect of a FAIL SAFE-style restaging of the original scripts as written, but made anxious by the suggestion that the material will be 'adapted and updated' -- Quatermass is a thing very much of its time, and its science and social context are its very fabric. The patriarchal boffin, a London emerging from the shadow of war and standing on the threshold of a new era of technology... treat these core elements as 'up for grabs' and a major TV event becomes a minor exercise.

How right Monkeyboy was to be concerned. The fear that ran through the whole original production was fear of what might lie beyond our atmosphere – a fear that made sense when no human being had yet travelled there. It makes no sense when repositioned in the world of today, after 44 years of manned spaceflight. Yes, Quatermass became a minor exercise.

If anyone were ever insane enough to entrust me with directing any science-fiction classic, I wouldn't update it by one minute. The War of the Worlds, for example, would again be fought in the late Victorian Home Counties – just as Quatermass's rocket would again crash into the postwar London of bombsites and rationing.


I have to confess that when I first peered through 405 lines of black-and-white murk at The Quatermass Experiment, I completely failed to notice the patriarchal nature of Quatermass. But I was only an eight-year-old boy, it was the 1950s, and that other incredible monster, Andrea Dworkin, had not yet come and gone.

I love the lead review of The Quatermass Collection (the Prof on DVD) at

These are (semi-)live, black and white British television productions, they are not to be marvelled at visually and they will never win any awards for editing. To be polite, the acting is sometimes as determined as the characters need to be, but in honesty it's all slightly too wooden. Never mind, as the real stars here are Nigel Kneale's screenplays and Rudolph Cartier's realisation.

… "Quatermass 2" is the crowning glory. Relentless, shocking, unnerving, this atypical "Invasion of the Body-Snatchers" forgoes the "who are you?" tedium of its siblings for violent revelation, death and apocalypse. The atmosphere in this production is tremendous: the horrors of Episode 3: "The Food" have never left me.

Nor me. "It's some kind of … corrosive acid … " – this said of the gunk drenching an unfortunate MP or civil servant whose agonized death we see in close-up. Quatermass and the Pit had the cleverest ideas, but Quatermass II was the most horrific of all the shows.

If you have seen, and are familiar with, the otherwise excellent Hammer films of the same names, buy this set and be pleasantly surprised at the incident and depth which the films unfortunately lack.

Altogether too kind to Hammer, I'm afraid.

8:50 PM

(150) comments

Sunday, April 03, 2005  

An unsuccessful Experiment

In the end, BBC4's Quatermass Experiment disappointed. It was brave to air it live - the first live drama on BBC TV in over 20 years, according to the trail - but it just served to remind me how right we were to turn our backs on live TV. There were only a couple of times when actors visibly forgot their lines, but these were enough to cut my disbelief down from its suspension and breathe air into its lungs.

I'm puzzled by my own response. I love theatre, and it has a far greater impact on me than film or TV.

It was too clever by half to try to raise the terror level by not showing us the full-grown monster. The soldiers preparing to save the human race by blasting Tate Modern - I expect Brian Sewell had volunteered to lead the charge - could see the thing clearly: they had orders to concentrate their fire on 'the dark patches'. So why couldn't we see it?

There was some pathetic hand-waving about the monster 'interfusing the very fabric of the building' to explain away the fact that we had a good view of the interior of the building and there was nothing there. Nigel Kneale and his wife are still alive, and they've still got the original rubber gloves with bits of plant attached; I'm sure they'd have been willing to waggle these if asked, just as they did in the very first production.

It was a shame; the show was growing on me earlier. The shot of the returning space capsule manoeuvring above the Earth as cloud fields streamed past below was beautiful. The infected Victor Carroon [spelling?] looked terrifyingly rabid as he advanced on the hapless cactus that was to be his first meal; I really thought his wife wasn't going to get out of the way in time.

This production stuck pretty close to the original script, as far as I could tell. The fall of the returning craft had been brought not very up to date by having it occur right next to a car that was rocking because of the copulating couple inside. (It must have a very spongy suspension to do that, I reckon.) This cliche fortunately didn't prove to be a bad omen.

I well remember the scholar who in the original blithered on about "Must we destroy beauty just for the sake of our own survival?" I found it tedious even then, when the beauty in question was Westminster Abbey. The answer is so obviously: "Yes, and be quick about it!" When it's Tate Modern that's going to get zapped, the question seems even sillier.

One scene in the chemical lab that had been looted by Carroon ended with the sound of a huge crash from somewhere out of shot, unexplained and unconnected to the action. Something like that could almost reconcile me to live drama. In the age of the Internet, the truth about that crash must soon be public knowledge. I'll keep trawling for it.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to getting the DVDs of the almost complete originals of the Quatermass shows. I don't think the fluffs and muddles of live productions will seem so bothersome seen through the murk of an ancient telerecording.

10:07 PM

(1) comments

Monday, March 28, 2005  

This morning Andrew Marr's Start The Week talked about Wells's The First Men In The Moon. One of the guests was China Miéville, who's written the introduction to a new Penguin edition. I learned that Wells had been challenged by Verne over the poor quality of his science. I should think Wells would be well placed to offer the defence that artistic value is more important than scientific plausibility, since he was a supreme artist. Even so, he sailed close to the wind with the liberties he took.

I don't have much problem with Cavorite, the anitgravity material. That's well justified by the scene where the first sample is produced in a chemical reaction while Cavor is walking to the house of Bedford, the narrator. Cavor's house and quantities of the East Anglian surroundings take off into space - in an "absentmindedness that had just escaped depopulating the terrestrial globe":

The chimneys jerked heavenward, smashing into a string of bricks as they rose, and the roof and a miscellany of furniture followed. Then overtaking them came a huge white flame. The trees about the building swayed and whirled and tore themselves to pieces, that sprang towards the flare. My ears
were smitten with a clap of thunder that left me deaf on one side for life, and all about me windows smashed, unheeded. I took three steps from the verandah towards Cavor's house, and even as I did so came the wind. Instantly my coat tails were over my head, and I was progressing in great leaps and bounds, and quite against my will, towards him.
But sending his travellers to the Moon without breathing apparatus, only to find a breathable atmosphere available when they arrive - that's outrageous.

And when Bedford and Cavor emerge onto the surface of the Moon they find that the lunar day is ending, presumably becasue Wells wants them to feel the pressure of time - they can't survive in the lunar night. But they arrived at dawn, and they've only spent two days below the surface in the company of the selenites. The lunar day is 14 terrestrial days long. No problem - just invoke some mysterious physiological effect that has slowed their subjective experience of time. Doubly outrageous. But again justified by what the old wordsmith does with it all.

Credit to the Gutenberg project, whose text I checked, and found to be wildly, disconcertingly, different in many ways from what I had remembered.

3:30 PM

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Saturday, March 19, 2005  

How best to spend a quarter of a million or more

I drove my daughter down to Royal Holloway (the London University college) yesterday so that she could attend their music department's open day. While she was elsewhere, I spent the time enjoying the glorious springlike weather and the glorious Victorian Gothic folly that is the Founder's Building, while drinking beer and coffee and reading The Renegade Writer (see previous entry). My current work is paperless, and my Psion 5mx - my only mobile computer - has been down with screen problems for many months. So when I'm away from base, reading marginally work-related books is the nearest I can come to real work.

BREAK THIS RULE: You need to generate lots of ideas.

New ideas are good, but old ideas can be better. Instead of racking your brain to come up with the Next Big Idea, why not recycle the ideas you've already written about?
Now that's what I call practical. Seriously. I don't think enough about extracting extra mileage from stuff I've written. Thanks, Linda and Diana.

If all artists borrow, and great artists steal, it must be the supreme artists who steal from themselves.

But I shall try to avoid repetition in this blog. Tell me if I do it.

There was a little concert for applicants and their carers at lunchtime. Tuba and piano duetting; then clarinet and piano, and then the clarinet solo. Superb. The tuba hit low notes that must have had whales poking their heads out of the water off Cornwall.

This took place in the Picture Gallery. Before the music I had a chance to look at some of the paintings. There was the Holy Land in Pilgrims Approaching Jerusalem, seen through the murk of a style better suited to represent stags at bay on rainy Scottish moors; it's hard to believe that David Roberts painted this from his own experience of Palestine, but he did:

Between 1832 and 1833 he travelled extensively in Spain and Algeria. During the years 1838 and 1839 he visited Egypt and the Holy Land, and in 1851 and 1853 he toured Italy. These visits provided the raw material for many magnificent books illustrated in the newly developed chromo-lithography
Perhaps the process was to blame. I could appreciate the story-telling paintings better. They all seemed to be tear-jerkers: Edwin Long's Babylonian Marriage Market; Sir Luke Fildes' Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward; Millais' The Princes in the Tower; Spanish beggars getting their begging licences from an arrogant official …. The Victorians are generally regarded as being economical with their compassion, but paintings like these disprove that.

The man to whom we owe the collection, according to the college Website:

In the last years of his life, between 1881 and 1883, Thomas Holloway, a self-made multi-millionaire whose fortune had been made in patent medicines, paid well over 80,000 pounds (equivalent to more than 6 million pounds in today's terms) for the seventy-seven paintings which make up the Royal Holloway Collection.

This was the final touch to Holloway's generous endowment of a College for women, founded in 1879 and opened by Queen Victoria in June 1886. …

In 1871, Holloway had initiated a public debate through the pages of The Builder, inviting suggestions as to `How best to spend a quarter of a million or more', a sum of money that he very soon doubled. In fact, it was his wife who was to suggest a college for women as the means by which Holloway's money might effect what, in his own words, he wanted to achieve: `the greatest public good'.
Well, if they offer Blythe a place, I'll drink a toast to the old snake-oil peddler.

11:08 PM

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005  

Some of my current reading:

  • Paradoxes From A to Z by Michael Clark. Can't recommend it. The discussions are often rushed and muddled.

  • Logic: A Very Short Introduction by Graham Priest. A cracker. It gallops through a lot of sophisticated stuff - modal logic, fuzzy logic, decision theory - in a small space.

I don't know why I was in such a logic-loving mood when I got these. Perhaps I was exhilarated by getting an honourable mention on Fallacy Files Weblog for the solutions I offered to a pair of problems called 'Untie the nots' Part 1 (Jan 22) and Part 2 (Feb 1). Solutions appear right under Part 2.

  • The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. Haven't got into this yet, but it looks stimulating.

But one thing glares out from the pages: the twists writers get into when a cast-iron formula has been decided for a book. The back-cover blurb gives the prospectus:

Remember all those "rules" you were told about freelance writing? Forget 'em!

So inside you get this frenetic would-be bonfire of vanities:

BREAK THIS RULE: You need to research only the magazine and your assignment topic.

BREAK THIS RULE: Participate in freelance job boards and auctions.

BREAK THIS RULE: Never call an editor.

Only writers under orders to appear iconoclastic have ever pronounced such rules, and only to provide the spectacle of shooting them down.

Don't get me wrong, Diana and Linda, when you google for reviews and find this page: I feel for any writers who've got themselves trapped in a formula for the duration of a book - I've done it myself often enough. I'll be reading your book right through and making notes.

9:20 PM

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Friday, March 04, 2005  

Bilious? Moi?

While viewing this page, I pressed the 'Similar pages' button on my Google toolbar. Among some otherwise perceptive choices, it displayed Now what makes it think I'm bilious, a fogey, or young?

The site is good to look at if you like pictures of Chinese and Japanese painting and calligraphy and the torsos of hunks. It's good to read if you like right-wing stuff. He describes himself as a 'neocon' and a 'homocon'.

4:31 PM

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Quatermass 2005

Perhaps there is a God. Quatermass returns this year.

BBC4 is doing some kind of production of The Quatermass Experiment soon. Not a simple rebroadcast – I believe only two episodes of the 1953 original survive. Alarmingly, someone said the new version is to be 'modernized'. Never mind – fingers crossed that it'll keep the spirit of the original, even if it doesn't have a rubber-glove monster.

This from the BBC:

BBC Four controller Janice Hadlow said she was "thrilled to be bringing Quatermass back to life … It's wonderful to have one of the first 'must-watch' TV experiences that inspired the water-cooler chat of its day."

Water-cooler chat? Water-cooler? The average Briton of 1957 would have wondered what a water-cooler was, and why it would be so chatty. The water we drank then – I can remember those days, my friends, though my memories are distorted by the mighty shadow of Quatermass – came straight from the tap and was tepid. What would have been the point of cooling it, when the only purpose of extracting it from the tap was to boil it up and make tea with it?

Sometimes we glimpsed water-coolers in offices in American TV programmes. We wondered why there were no fish in those tanks.

Not that I would have had anything to do with water. As a schoolboy – yes, I may be old, but my age isn't into triple digits yet – I only drank brightly coloured fizzy stuff from glass bottles.

Apparently the surviving bits of the original Experiment and the whole of Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit are coming out on DVD quite soon. But it's such a long time to my birthday or Christmas.

11:41 AM

(7) comments

Thursday, February 24, 2005  

This is my last entry on tsunami dreams. Until I think of something else to say, anyway. But I just wanted to add this: in my last entry but one I tried to estimate how many dreams there might be each night that appear to predict anything significant the following day. Let's try to run the process the other way and estimate how many dreams of tsunamis we might have expected to occur by pure chance in the 24 hours before the tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004.

How often do people dream of tsunamis (or tidal waves, if they have old-fashioned vocabularies)? Well, any sort of flood would seem significant to keen dreamers ­– see the case of Fidget in the last entry. Suppose we were to be very restrictive and say the average person only has (and recalls) one all-singing, all-dancing, feel-your-feet-get-wet dream of devastating floods in a lifetime. Well, if you've got a better guess, tell me – and justify it.

Confining ourselves to the richest billion people in the world, the ones most likely to shove their dreams onto the Internet – and then to the two-thirds who are adults – that's 700 million such dreams they'll produce during their lives. Assuming an average lifespan of 70 years – that's 10 million dreams a year. Or 30,000 every night.

That's right: I'm saying that throughout the richest part of the world, on the night before the Boxing Day tsunami, there were tens of thousands of dreams about flooding. And every night before, and every night since.

And we're discounting the merely quite damp dreams – of leaking kitchen taps, of leaky roofs, of umbrellas with holes, of panicking in the swimming pool – even though some at least of those who had the dreams are quite likely to have regarded them as highly significant when they read the papers or watched TV the day after the great wave.

What proportion of these would be reported on the Internet? A few percent, representing a few hundred?

If so, then I'd have to look at quite a lot of the 14,000–19,000 pages that Google returns for dream + tsunami + prediction to find first-hand dream reports; I don't think I have enough stomach for abject nonsense to be able to do that.

But the take-home message is: however many pseudo-predictive dream reports you come across, they're only a small sample of what you'd expect to occur by chance.


What song the sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture.

But they're beyond my powers to conjecture with back-of-the-envelope quantitative estimates.

10:59 PM

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005  

For all I know, this is as old as the hills, but I heard it for the first time today. Better sit down for this, it's a good one:

Q: Who led the Pedants' Revolt?

A: Which Tyler


Wet dreams

While I was writing Monday's post on predictive dreams I was inspired to type tsunami + prediction into Google. I came up with a huge amount of delicious junk food for the mind. Just one or two items:

Fidget describes two watery dreams she (?) had in December, and goes on:

The second dream doesn't seem to have much to do with a tsunami, but the first one certainly could. It was much more calm than the tsunami that hit on Su-26-Dec, which probably didn't involve wind as my dream did, but it strikes me that I had a dream of this nature a mere ten days before the worst tsunami ever recorded hit SouthEast Asia. It's not much of a psychic premonition or anything, since it wasn't major and only involved me, but it's still pretty weird.

No, Fidget, it's not even weird. Especially since the dream didn't involve a tsunami at all, but a storm.

Of course, the longer the delay between the dream and the 'matching' event, the more impressive the latter will have to be to grab anyone's attention. In the case of the tsunami, an interval much greater than ten days seems to be acceptable:


A Dream of the Tsunami disaster .... written/posted back in 1997!!!

This is copied from a website where people can post interesting dreams/visions they have had, and their interpretation of it. I was looking through a random archive and came across this one. Wow! On the actual website (not here), there is also an interpretation of the dream after the description section - which is highly symbolic - and mainly adds credibility to the fact that this has not been newly added or edited by the person managing the website archives, to be in accordance with recent events.

No additions or editing needed, Gecko, when there are years of dreams to trawl through, looking for tsunami themes. And let's be fair, this dream is genuinely about a tsunami.


We arrived at a restaurant made out of logs and built on a sandy tropical island. The Chinese and Malaysian food on offer was cooked by an Indonesian Balinese chef. There were different types of people here and I particularly noticed a surfer.

All of a sudden I knew that a gigantic tidal wave was on its way. I looked out to the sea and there it was. I had never imagined such a huge tidal wave. It was totally awesome and it was like an expression of great power and might. I saw the surfer try to body surf the tidal wave but it was like a joke.

I knew that there was a steel girder fixed upright in the center of the log restaurant. I went directly to it and held on to it. There was no way I was going to let go of the steel girder.

I recommend going back to the Christian site where Gecko found this, the Daystar Ministry for Prophecy, Dreams and Visions. The folk there who first recorded this dream don't seem to regard it as presaging a physical tidal wave. They give it spiritual interpretations. Highlights:


… The steel girder is probably the Rock of Ages which is Jesus Christ. …Russell Swann suggests that the steel girder represents The Cross in which we will find rest and peace if we would be made conformable unto the death of Christ.

[Here the Dear Lord, pace Einstein, seems to be both subtle and malicious. Couldn't the Rock of Ages have been symbolized by a rock? Couldn't the Cross have been represented by a cross? Wouldn't that show a bit of divine helpfulness?]

… Russell also suggests that the Chinese and Malaysian food on offer and which was cooked by an Indonesian Balinese chef represents teachings from Eastern Mysticism which have much to do with the selfist [sic] religion of self realization and self esteem.

I see that there are plenty of premonition registry sites online. I hope someone is monitoring them. Certainly the professional prophets are being watched. James Randi reports:

We've all been shocked by the recent disaster in Asia, the tsunami event — which, I note, was not predicted by any of our ever-alert psychic "sensitives."

10:35 PM

(1) comments

Monday, February 21, 2005  

Immensely struck, and probably spooked

I rarely dream. Or I rarely remember my dreams. We won't go into the metaphysical puzzler of what the difference might be between those propositions. I used to dream a lot as a kid, and to swap accounts of my dreams with my school friends. Mine were luridly coloured and frequently involved nuclear annihilation. I'm talking about 1960. I believe I could revive the habit of dreaming if I were to keep a notebook by my bed and write down what I recalled the moment the alarm woke me. (Making sure I didn't use Radio 4 as my alarm, otherwise I'd be transcribing the waking John Humphrys and James Naughty instead of the sleeping Chris Cooper.) As I say, I believe I could recapture dreams this way – but I don't bother, because I don't attach significance to dreams.

But I'd find it hard to avoid attaching significance to a dream if it coincided in a few features with some unusual event that happened to me the following day. I'd be immensely struck by that, and probably spooked.

Despite what my rational mind told me. For it really would be rational to shrug and forget it.

Think of it: there are 40 million adults in this country. If only 3 per cent of them recall their dreams, that's over a million dreams recalled each morning. Imagine the following experiment: descriptions of those million dreams are written down, each in a paragraph. Also, one-paragraph descriptions of unusual occurrences are written down: the occurrences could be anything that might catch one's attention in the course of a day. The kind of incident that makes a story in a local newspaper. Or a disaster reported in the nationals. Or some unusual personal incident – someone meeting by chance a school friend they haven't seen for 30 years, say.

The two sets of descriptions are jumbled randomly and then paired, one dream description with one event description and so on. How many would seem like a good match?

One in a thousand seems a pretty cautious estimate to me. We're just talking orders of magnitude here – one in a hundred seems too high, and favours my case too much; one in ten thousand seems unduly pessimistic.

One in a thousand applied to a million dreams implies a thousand potential matches every day in Britain. And some proportion of these will be noticed, and some proportion of those will have a fuss made about them, even if only in a local paper or some crank Website.

Perhaps I was too sanguine in assuming one chance matching in a thousand – perhaps it should be far fewer. But don't forget that people who are interested in their dreams can compare each one not with a single incident chosen at random (as in the imaginary experiment above), but with any of a huge number of incidents that happen to them during the day, or that they learn about through the media. And if they don't find any matches, they can compare that same dream with what they encounter the next day, or the next. There are really an enormous number of chances to find significant coincidences. The problem is not explaining occasional seeming dream predictions, but explaining why so few are reported.

Perhaps people are just not alert.

11:02 PM

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Saturday, February 12, 2005  

A significant anniversary

It's one year to the day since my last post here. If you want to know what kept me away - well, I can't quite recall right now. If I could, I wouldn't bore you with it anyway. This is a punditblog, not a journalblog. I mention my private life when I can draw some wider point from it. Can I make any general point about an absence from blogging of a year? Let's think. Here's William James on the importance of keeping up habit:

Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again.

Perhaps I was daunted by the size of the blogosphere. My blogwatcher is Bloglines, which does the job very adequately for me. Here are just a few of the 64 feeds that I don't get around to reading at the moment. (I won't give links - just google for them.)

Agoraphilia: mostly the microeconomics of everyday life

EnviroSpin Watch: Philip Stott keeping globally cool news for women who don't mind being individuals

Language Log: language up close, with Google usally being the microscope

Oh, That Liberal Media: "highlighting liberal bias, agendas, distortions and erroneous reporting..." - in an even-handed way, of course

Adam Smith Institute Blog: giving a big hand to that invisible hand

Natalie Solent: I read her for the sewing

SteynOnline: almost another P J O'Rourke

And science news from The Economist, Scientific American, The Guardian, New
and so on.

And those are just the subscriptions I care to make public.

10:25 PM

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Thursday, February 12, 2004  

A new road-atlas of hell

Wandering in search of Dan Dare trivia, I came across the site of the Professor of Computer Science in the eponymous Department at the University of York. A typical geek, who atypically pumps out a steady stream of mini-reviews of current reading, predominantly SF. The Prof combines this with an impressive number of research papers, too, if January is anything to go by. In the last couple of months, these reviews were posted (links on the page) :

29 Jan 2004 • Wil McCarthy • The Collapsium
25 Jan 2004 • Laurell K. Hamilton • Narcissus in Chains
15 Jan 2004 • John Meaney • To Hold Infinity
05 Jan 2004 • J. D. Robb • Betrayal in Death
27 Dec 2003 • David Weber, Eric Flint • Crown of Slaves
23 Dec 2003 • Mercedes Lackey • Sun in Glory
22 Dec 2003 • Jane M. Lindskold • Smoke and Mirrors
16 Dec 2003 • Diane Duane • A Wizard Alone
16 Dec 2003 • Marjorie Phillips • Annabel and Curlie
11 Dec 2003 • James H. Schmitz • The Hub: Dangerous Territory

There are millions upon millions of SF links on this sprawling site. I satisfied myself that the Prof is sound on Dan Dare:

For me, SF is like poetry. I love it when I read it. I never read it.

There are delights on these pages that can never tempt me. For example:

Filk is the folk music of the science fiction community. Here are a few examples I've culled from Usenet filk news group, that demonstrate the range, from parodies to original songs, from hilarious to deadly serious.

No, please, ...

I have to own up: I'm victim to a stereotypical image of the SF-loving Trekkie computer geek: the bottle-bottom glasses, thin beard, anorak, filthy trainers, ponytail, keyboard surrounded by cokes and pizzas. I know it misses the mark in this case, because the Prof's name is Susan Stepney. But I couldn't find a picture of her anywhere on her site, so I'm stuck with the image for now.

12:11 AM

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