Search This Blog

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Chirp birdsong app for iPhone

My grandson very much enjoys the Chirp app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Using it, one can learn about the bird songs of a great number of birds you're likely to find in your country. The app allows you to play song samples for each bird or you can take a series of graded quizzes to test how well you know the bird songs. My grandson is better at it than me! I can recommend this if you enjoy birds. The app was just £1.99 in the UK and well worth it.

Late winter evenings

At long last the nights are getting darker later: here near Cambridge it is still light at around 5pm now. As the rate of change speeds up through February, it will soon be light until 6pm.

I quite enjoy this time of the year as it  is full of promise and hope. The garden daffodils and crocus are pushing through and the birds in the garden are starting to explore the nestboxes again in readiness for spring and young.  For many years we have had blue tits and great tits in our nest boxes and I hope they will nest again, especially as the nestboxes have been repaired and made ready for the guests.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Garden Birdwatch 2012

Every year for many years now I've taken part in the RSPB's Garden Birdwatch. You are asked to count the maximum number of each different bird species seen in your garden, or in a park,  in any one hour.  My house backs on to a lane and then open meadows with a good number of deciduous trees so I usually manage to see an interesting variety of the smaller birds. Last year the long-tailed tit (see left) was the big surprise with no less than 12 seen together. Occasionally we get a treat when a sparrow hawk, green woodpecker or spotted woodpecker appear, but so far never in the hour I am doing the count. Anyone can take part for any hour over this weekend and you do not have to be a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds member.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

UK tax inefficiency

Why do we still have TV licences? Why not just increase income tax or increase VAT on TVs, PCs, mobiles and phones and save all that admin cost? Same applies to road fund tax: why not just put up fuel duty? Again, less admin, no evasion.   Likewise the winter fuel payment for all people over 60 in the UK: the taxman knows how old each of us is, so why not just increase the tax free allowance on income tax if you are over 60?

And all shall be well

This afternoon I visited a colleague of mine known for over 40 years. We go back a long time.  Today John lies in a hospice bed in Cambridge, his life hanging on a thread, his body racked with pain from prostate cancer that has spread to his bones and vital organs. He is now on a continuous drip that helps to reduce his pain. His wife is the model of calm as she sits at his bedside, knowing that his life on planet Earth has just a few days or weeks to run.  We talk about "the old days". We mention a few names. We talk about trivial things. He slips into light sleep then wakes again. He is in pain.

And yet he is calm and ready.  John, his wife and their family have a strong faith and believe that he is being held and loved by a far greater power and love. He says calmly in a quiet voice, "I'll go when the Lord calls me".  His faith is utterly grounded and sure, with not a shadow of doubt. Oh to have such a strong faith, a belief that this is not the end, just part of our journey. 

Which brings me to the closing lines of T.S.Eliot's "Dry Salvages" from his Four Quartets:
"With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. 
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always —
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one."
And all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Wikipedia blackout

For 24 hours Wikipedia is going "off air" in protest at possible US legislation that could radically affect the Internet as we know it. The Internet works because it is free, open and uncensored. This is the way it should remain, even if this sometimes means we can be offended or hurt by what we see or hear. We are adults and can make up our own minds. There are ways to safeguard children which any responsible parent can implement.

This appears on the Wikipedia main page:
"For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia. Learn more."

"Shame" Movie


This afternoon my wife and I went to the cinema in Cambridge to watch a new film called "Shame" starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. The film is a UK Film 4 production, but it is set in New York and tells the story of a man, played by Fassbender, who is addicted to sex.  Although there is indeed a LOT of sex in the film it is, in truth, a story about loss, loneliness, isolation and sadness. Many will find it bleak and totally miserable. This is an "art house" genre film and there is no way you will find the sex scenes turn you on: the sex is empty and loveless. If you enjoy films, especially ones that challenge, then you may find this one worth watching.  There is a trailer at http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi404332057/


Friday, 13 January 2012

The present

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a present. Enjoy it.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

CERN, particles and cosmology

As you may know scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland are currently searching for some mysterious elemental particles.  At the same time cosmologists are struggling to make sense of the universe (or is it universes?) debating whether space is expanding, contracting, static or made of strings.  They debate how many dimensions they need to make the theories work. The search for a grand unified theory bringing together the subatomic and cosmological scales continues.

Now here's a thought: are we looking in completely the wrong places? Is it conceivable that within each atom there exists an entire universe? And within each atom within this universe there are yet more universes, and so on for ever? In the opposite direction (outwards) are we just part of the space dust that makes our universe a microscopic part of something yet larger, and so on for ever? And do these diverging scales somehow fold back into a unified whole?

I am neither a cosmologist nor a particle physicist and my knowledge of quantum mechanics was limited to some difficult lectures in my last year at university in 1970, but I do remember the sense of awe and wonder when told that everything could be viewed as a wave function existing in all space and all time: somehow we are already everywhere (statistically) and we exist in all time forwards into the future and backwards into the past (statistically). What I am speculating is that the macro and the micro world could be one and the same.


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

In God We Doubt - a book I've just read and recommend

In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist is a book by the BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys in which he explores why people do, or do not, believe in God. As an agnostic myself, full of doubt and confused about what to believe, I found this a very honest and open book that asks the right questions, although I am still little further forward on my spiritual journey.

This is the description from Amazon:
"Throughout the ages believers have been persecuted – usually for believing in the “wrong” God. So have non-believers who have denied the existence of God as superstitious rubbish.

Today it is the agnostics who are given a hard time. They are scorned by believers for their failure to find faith and by atheists for being hopelessly wishy-washy and weak-minded. But John Humphrys is proud to count himself among their ranks. In this book he takes us along the spiritual road he himself has travelled. He was brought up a Christian and prayed every day of his life until his growing doubts finally began to overwhelm his faith.

As one of the nation’s most popular and respected broadcasters, he had the rare opportunity in 2006 of challenging leaders of our three main religions to prove to him that God does exist. The Radio Four interviews – Humphrys In Search of God – provoked the biggest response to anything he has done in half a century of journalism. The interviews and the massive reaction from listeners had a profound effect on him – but not in the way he expected.

Doubt is not the easy option. But for the millions who can find no easy answers to the most profound questions it is the only possible one."