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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Blackboard Jungle

Am I going through an "End of Life" crisis? At my age it isn't a mid life crisis. I left that years ago.

It's not the Lolita complex. That ended when Putin took over Russia. Frankly I don't know what's happening to me. But something really important....

This song is running through my head Harry Chapin's W.O.L.D. I bought the single in the 70's (don't ask me what year). 40 years on. Don't ask what it means, it just is what I was in the 70's. But all the stuff I listened to was like this.

Albert Hammond's " Free Electric Band" . There I was on my way to work and I went into a record store and they were playing Billy Joel's "Piano Man" . It said everything about me in the early '70's - sad, uncertain and lost. Then I heard Elton's Rocket Man - it was me. Lonely, yearning, lost in space.

I'd go to my bed-sit in Belsize Park and play these on my Trio deck, through my Trio tuner/amp and a pair of second hand Goodman speakers. "American Pie" would resonate and I'd play Roxy Music's "Street Life" until my ears hurt. And I'd get really groovy with the Average White Band.   Fun and funky.

Into the '80's, I'd still feel pretty depressed about things generally. "Vienna" summed it up. Thatcher, spies and uncertainty, and ..sophistication,danger and drama. I needed that. Yazoo said it all as did the Communards "Don't Leave Me this Way". The 80's were a trial  for me and as it died I moved into mid life but.. the Only Way Is Up kicked all that nonsense into touch.

The 90's saw me re-generated Spock like. It took me a while but I found myself listening to songs that reinvigorated me. "Teen Spirit" could be a middle age anthem. Headbanging, heavy drum and lyrics that wern't a problem to us with hearing impairment. The video clearly had something to do with its attraction.  I liked Brit Pop,but not Tony Blair. "What's the Story (Morning Glory)" passed me by but not this. 

And then in the late 90's  I found myself listening  to Korn  and System of a Down . Why?? Simple, the music made me feel alive. As did this by Bloodhound Gang

And into the 2000's. There I was back into the 60's and 70's. Dylan "Blood on the Tracks"  and The Four Tops.

So why is W.O.L.D. in my head now? Simple. It's a fucking good song as are all the others that have tracked my adult life. Simple. Just spin the disc.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Man with Two Brains

As you all know I am,what is known in the best circles as, an "Intellectual" or "Bulging Brains Barry".

Life's mundane travails leave me untouched, my cerebellum hardly ever breaks out in a sweat as I glide  effortless thro' life's choppy seas.

 Frankly, to keep me in the peak of cranium fitness I need to do 50 rounds with Richard Feynman - and I'd have one hand tied behind my back and half my brain removed. Stephen Hawkins refuses my challenges as does Stephen Fry, and Richard Dawkins just ends up having temper tantrums when I crush him under my intellectual weight.

So last Saturday I approached the British Library in the hope that there I would find a task fittingly fantastical for my mega brain power. I thought, as I passed the gorgeously Gothic St Pancras hotel, I'm born out of my time. My milieu would have been the 15th or 16th century: I would have shared the Firmament with Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Cromwell. At a pinch the 19th century might have accommodated my genius as Burnel and I instigated the Space Age and Kelvin, along with Faraday and Maxwell, helped me usher in quantum mechanics just in time for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

I was to attend a New Scientist Live  Programme on "The Quantum World". Frankly,  little tiny things hold no fear for me. Photons and Higgs Bosons are my drinking partners - usually a pint of Bose-Einstein condensate. Collapsing wave functions and the many universe postulate just make me giggle. I was looking forward to telling Jim Al-Khalili that he might as well pack his bags and try his hand at needlecraft.

The very smart British Library lecture theatre was straining to hold us all in, as a day of talks beckoned. Talk 1 "Why is the world quantum" by Vlatko Vedral. "O.K. Vlatko hit me with all you have quantum wise." He did, but I rolled with it, as I did with Jim and Naomi, Jeremy and David. All their talks on different aspects of the quantum world held our attention and during lunch and coffee breaks the intellectual toing and froing continued.

Except as I left the British Library, I was strangely troubled. It was Einstein's "spooky action at a distance": quantum entanglement. It was Stephanie Wehner and her talk  "The strange features of the quantum world" that very effectively slipped in the knife. It was the second talk of the day and it had me puzzled.

It's all to do with what happens when you create two photons with opposite and equal spin. You don't know what the spins are but experiment shows that if you measure the correlation of the  spins (using two detecting devices) you find it's greater than you would expect classical methods to predict. The correlation you get is best explained by quantum physics.

 Somehow, when you look at one photon (the detector clicks) the other photon knows instantaneously what's happened to its companion. No information about the state of the first photon is transmitted to the second. Even if it were since nothing can travel faster than the speed of light it would be impossible for the information to reach the second photon in time to affect the measurement.

Somehow the two particles at their creation are entangled. You can't describe one without describing the other. That's spooky; non local,  which is why Einstein wasn't happy with it.

It's mind blowing stuff, and I have spent much of this week trying to get my head round it. I've watched endless videos on YouTube (Do American professors realise how dorkish they look?) and I'm still not there.

It's got so bad that this entanglement business is affecting my everyday life.

We have two female friends called Chris who live in our road. One lives down from us with her partner Andy, the other lives almost equidistant up the road with her partner Gregg. Yesterday was one of the Chris's birthday and the missus had bought her a present. As 'er in doors was busy with work she asked me to deliver the present to Chris, which I did....

When she returned home the wife asked had I delivered the present. I said I had. I explained Chris wasn't in: she was at work but I handed it to Andy.

I have never seen my wife so angry before. She screamed, she stamped her feet, banged the table and called me some rather unsavoury names. "I knew it, I knew you'd get it wrong. I nearly phoned you up just to check. Why can't I trust you to do anything right."

For a moment I thought of trying to explain that this was rather like quantum entanglement, but decided it might not be appreciated. "Go back and get the present, this instant!"

Which I did.

A rather surprised Andy, smilingly handed me the present I having explained what had happened. "I haven't told Chris about "the present", so it's alright."he said. I thanked him and bowed as I backed out of their front door.

Present in hand I rushed up the road to the house of the second Chris, knocked on the door, to be greeted by Lottie and Gregg, Chris's partner. Having been peed on by Lottie in her excitement to see me, I quickly explained to Gregg what had happened and handed over the gift. Gregg tried to shut the door on me but convulsions of laughter prevented that.

I returned home, and swore on the Bible, crossing my heart and hoping to die, that the right present had been delivered to the right Chris.

That wasn't the end of it. Texts started to cascade through the aether. "Message from Chris de Burgh: thanks for the pressie and card." Chris at no 36 says thanks; she won't tell her husband", "Chrissy Hynde is suing: Chris Akabusi is touched." and so on.

I saw Andy's Chris this evening. Andy had told her what had happened but got her to promise not to tell!

I've yet to see Gregg's Chris but I can expect a fair amount of ragging when I do.

And it's all because of quantum entanglement and my huge brain.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Gardener's World or Sod's Law

I’m all in favour of self sufficiency and turning over the sods. But enthusiasm should be tempered with caution. I say this having read that in March there’s Waltham Forest's own Urban Food Growing Festival. 

Growing your own is all well and good, but I feel it’s my duty to warn my fellow Walthamstownians of the perils. I speak as an experienced allotment plot holder.

Little did I realise that the simple joy of tilling the soil could be fraught with such trials and tribulations.

Forget the aching back, the fork impaled foot or the stench of rooting compost. It’s your fellow allotmenteers you have to watch out for.

Watering cans at 50 paces is not an uncommon sight. Wild accusations of theft, treachery and wilful damage rend the air on quiet Sunday mornings as plot holders face up to each other over a cup of (green) tea or something stronger. The innocent family barbeque that can so easily turn into a scene from “The Sopranos”.

Often I find myself muttering foul incantations under my breath as I sow my broad beans or plant out my pak choi. This time it’s my neighbour’s super charged motor mower driving me insane. He is completely impervious to the hideous noise as he wears ear guards.Or it's the kids of that “lovely new couple" - you know the one's with the gorgeous Labradoddle pup - who run amuck across my allotment. Fancifully, I picture them fetchingly impaled as living scarecrows.

Then there’s the “know it all”: worse than a dose of potato blight. Been on the site since the Norman Conquest and Chair of the Allotment Committee!

 “Well you know if you’d asked me”….”My brassicas always do well, but you can’t help being a novice.”

And after all that?  A trip to Lidl to buy some edible fruit and veg…..