A Sunny Day

Sunny Day
Sunny Day (Photo credit: atlantic_lost)

Everyone loves a sunny day. Well, most people, most of the time love a sunny day. A farmer in the middle of a drought might prefer a substantial downpour. Sometimes, too, it can be too hot and that can be unpleasant. And you have to be careful of the sun, because too much exposure leads to sunburn and can lead to skin cancers.

"Avoid sunburn" - NARA - 513898
“Avoid sunburn” – NARA – 513898 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of the time, though, people enjoy a sunny day. Here in the southern hemisphere Christmas falls in the middle of summer, so there is some hope of a sunny and warm Christmas Day. Some people roll out the barbecue and cook the Christmas lunch on that. Some have even decided that the “Christmas Barbie” is “traditional” and hold one even if the weather is not particularly good.

Not a turkey or Brussell sprout in sight
Not a turkey or Brussell sprout in sight (Photo credit: bignoseduglyguy)

Sun on our skins causes our bodies to produce Vitamin D.  The New Zealand Ministry of Health says :

For most people, it’s easy to get enough vitamin D in New Zealand – our bodies produce it whenever we get the sun on our skin.

But they also warn :

However, because of the risks of sunburn and skin cancer, we need to be careful how much sun we get.

So, it’s a balancing act. Local newspapers give estimates of “burn time” and kids are much more covered up in the sun than we ever were when we were kids. It doesn’t seem to slow them down, though!

Incidentally, why doesn’t someone develop a sunscreen lotion that doesn’t feel so disgusting and sticky? Or is it just me?

English: Sunscreen lotion Deutsch: Sonnenschut...
English: Sunscreen lotion Deutsch: Sonnenschutz-Lotion fuer Kinder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When summer is over and shorter days and more inclement weather is here, most people stay inside more and there is a danger, for some people, of “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD (I wonder how long it took to come up with that name and acronym!). People with this disorder suffer depression and other symptoms which can be relieved by subjecting them to periods of intense artificial light. Of course this may just be an effect and not a full-blown disorder. SAD does not appear to be related to a deficiency of Vitamin D, as the quoted Wikipedia article states that Vitamin D treatment doesn’t remove the symptoms of SAD.

English: A 30 kHz bright light therapy lamp (I...
English: A 30 kHz bright light therapy lamp (Innosol Rondo) used to treat seasonal affective disorder. Provides 10,000 lux at a distance of 25 cm. Suomi: 30 kilohertsin kirkasvalolamppu (Innosol Rondo) kaamosmasennuksen hoitoon. Kirkkaus 25 senttimetrin päässä 10 000 luksia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It appears then, that a sunny day does more than give you a dose of Vitamin D – it also gives your spirits a lift. Even if I am working and have to stay indoors, I find life much more pleasant if the  sun is shining outside.

Of course we get sunny days in other seasons than summer, don’t we? In winter it is often bitingly cold, but people bundle up and head outside to enjoy the sunshine nevertheless. In the autumn a sunny day can be quite warm, leading to the term “Indian Summer”. In the spring a sunny day is often warmer than preceding days, especially in comparison to the cold, dark days of winter, and presages the spurt of growth that is the forerunner of summer. It may be a sunny day will be heralded by the songs of birds mating and nesting, and shoots of new grass growth and buds on trees may be evident, especially in deciduous plants which are native to colder climates.

English: Southside Road Christmas Day 2008. Mi...
English: Southside Road Christmas Day 2008. Midday winter sunshine on Juniper Lodge Bed and Breakfast and St Stephen’s Kirk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever the season sunny days are generally welcomed as a chance to get outside and “do things”. This may be as simple as gardening or as rigorous as some sport or other. Even something like taking the dog for a walk is always better on a sunny day. Bad weather may preclude some sports, such as mountain climbing, but with a clear morning and a good weather forecast and you can feel confident of tackling that peak, and standing on the top you can admire the view.

Aoraki/Mount Cook as seen from SSW flying at a...
Aoraki/Mount Cook as seen from SSW flying at altitude 4000m in a glider from Omarama, a commercial gliding site 100km from the mountain. Deutsch: Der Mount Cook aus etwa 4.000 Metern Höhe gesehen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mothers and pre-school teachers look forward to sunny days. If rain keeps the kids inside, they get bored easily and that can lead to upset and even tantrums. On sunny days they can be urged outside to play on the trampoline or chase the chickens or whatever and they are not underfoot and don’t have to be kept busy.

In the biblical story of Noah and the Ark, Noah and his family, together with all the animals endured 40 days and nights of rain, before, eventually, seeing the sun and the rainbow. Imagine for a moment that the story was true. How glad would they have been to finally see the sun, and what sort of state would they have been in? They would probably have been bickering, playing cards with a pack of 51, arguing over the rules for checkers, blaming each other for not bringing along more beer, and arguing over whose turn it was to muck out the animals. The animals would not have been in a much better state either. The ducks arguing with the geese, the hyenas laughing at the dogs and the cats, not insisting, but expecting that everything would be done their way and for their benefit and comfort.

Noah's Ark, oil on canvas painting by Edward H...
Noah’s Ark, oil on canvas painting by Edward Hicks, 1846 Philadelphia Museum of Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I look outside now, it is pouring down! But on Friday it was beautiful and we took the grand-kids to visit Wellington’s Botanical Gardens. We parked in the CBD (which was expensive) and took the Cable Car up to the Gardens. The sun shone and the cicadas were making a din in the trees. We visited the Cable Car Museum, walked to Carter Observatory and walked down into the actual gardens by way of the kids’ playground. Finally we went through the floral displays and on to the Lady Norwood Rose Gardens.  You can’t beat Wellington on a good day, and this was one of them.

Hamish, Duncan and Louise at Wellington Botanical Garders
Hamish, Duncan and Louise at Wellington Botanical Garders
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Why do people do evil and nasty things?

The Detective Game
The Detective Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is common in crime dramas on TV for the detective to exclaim “Where is the motive?”.  When the motive is found it goes a long way towards solving the crime. Eventually the perpetrator gives in and confesses or is carried away by the police and the closing credits roll. All good entertainment.

Every crime has a motive of some sort – that is fairly obvious – but some acts in the commission of a crime are very difficult to explain or for which it is difficult to find a motive. A robber may rob a store and on his way out, he may smash something or cause some damage. A burglar may steal from a house and then turn on all the taps or knock holes in walls or do even more obnoxious things.

Suprunyuck photographed with a hammer; the cou...
Suprunyuck photographed with a hammer; the court described the motive of the killers as “morbid self-affirmation.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reason that they do such things is a mystery to me. It’s not as if their original nefarious plans would have included such actions, I imagine, in so far as they had plans anyway. The only thing that I can think of is that it is a throwback to some distant time when an invading force (such as a Viking  band) would rape any women they came across, kill any men, steal any valuable goods, and burn down the houses.

Rape, pillage, kill and destroy. Raping the women and killing the men would ensure that the invaders genes would spread at the expense of the victims’ genes and destroying the houses would demonstrate the invaders’ power and discourage the victims from following and seeking revenge. I’m not sure if this is a likely motive for such ancillary acts in the commission of a crime.

viking (Photo credit: What What)

Mass killers are another group where it is difficult to image what the motive for their crimes is. We tend to think of mass killers as a new phenomenon, but I’m not sure that they are. The earliest one that I can think of is “Jack the Ripper” who operated 1888. He was an instance of a subset of mass killers, a serial killer. Another type of mass killer is the person who open fires usually more of less indiscriminately in a public place. John Brunner’s 1968 prophetic novel “Stand on Zanzibar” calls such people “muckers” from the work “amok”.

2 Bridgewater inmates kill 3 guards: sets fire...
2 Bridgewater inmates kill 3 guards: sets fire to building housing 545. State Farm guards killed by 2 inmates who ran amok in the Bridgewater institution yesterday. Frank L. Weston, Howard V. Murphy and George Landry. – Boston Herald (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)

I suspect that mass killers have been part of the human race for a very long time. In the bible Herod orders the “Slaughter of the Innocents”, which could be considered an early mass killing. Even if the event was made up by the gospel writer it was likely to have been based on some other real event. There is a story in the Old Testament about the killing of the Canaanites (the people who inhabited Canaan before Moses and his followers took over the land), a mass murder or genocide which is discussed (from a Christian perspective) in this article. Whether or not you believe the bible to be the word of God, or merely a collection of folk tales this could be construed to be evidence that mass killings have occurred for millennia.

English: A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, i...
English: A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop’s 1894 “Treasures of the Bible” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After hunting about on theInternet for a while I came across the names of two serial killers,  Gilles de Rais and Elizabeth Bathory. I guess that while these two cases are the most prominent and remembered there have almost certainly been others that have not been recorded, or that I have missed.

de Rais’ motives appear to be purely sexual, and strongly sadistic, since there was no monetary or other advantage to him. Elizabeth Bathory’s motives do not on the face of it appear to be sexually motivated and appear pure sadistic. However, it is hard to tell for sure as I don’t believe that investigations would have been rigorous in those days and rumour and speculation was apparently often taken as fact.

Français : Exécution de Gilles de Rais (gibet ...
Français : Exécution de Gilles de Rais (gibet et bûcher). Armes du président Bouhier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s pretty certain that people like these are not normal, whatever normal is. As such I don’t think that we can guess their real motives, if they had any. They appear to be driven by urges which they were unable to control, and de Rais is supposed to have exhibited remorse, although that didn’t seem to stop him.

In modern times, there seems to be an increase in a particular sort of killing. This is where the perpetrator, usually a teenager or fairly young person, takes a gun into a public place and more or less indiscriminately  starts shooting, killing as many people as he can, before he is killed by the police or commits suicide. Of course, the ready availability of guns and ammunition facilitates these killing sprees – you probably couldn’t kill many people in a short time with a bow and arrow or a spear or a sword.

Boston Marathon 2013 ... Confronting Terror in...
Boston Marathon 2013 … Confronting Terror in Boston — Find ways to help (April 16, 2013 / 6 Iyar 5773) …item 2.. Meditation and Sleep Music — 30 minutes …item 3.. Mail Online – Daily Mail — WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT … (Photo credit: marsmet547)

Many of the perpetrators of these mass killings seem to be maladjusted or social outcasts, who are often fans of guns and weaponry. As outcasts, it is probably to simplistic to assume that their actions were some sort of revenge against society or against people around him, but that could possibly be a factor.

I don’t think that I have really answered the question I raised when I started this piece. People who are not extreme, as these killers are, can’t reliably guess the killers’ motives, I guess. What is apparent is that the killers don’t appear to have much control, if any, over their actions. It seems that the way to stop similar mass killings is to locate the killers before they have killed. It doesn’t seem that short of locking them up, there is any way to prevent them killing. Some potential killers have been given drugs and some killers have previously received drugs, but stopped taking them for one reason or another. All in all, I think that society is a long way from understanding the phenomenon of mass killers.

Forensic sketch of the Unabomber, commissioned...
Forensic sketch of the Unabomber, commissioned by the FBI, drawn by Jeanne Boylan. This copy was found at the url: http://members.aol.com/alvertc/Sketch.gif. According to Encarta, the drawing was released by the FBI in 1987. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this piece. Once I started I was determined to complete it, but I made at least two starts. My first start tended towards being an apologia for Naziism and I definitely didn’t want my piece to be that! The Nazis started from an invalid premise (the superiority of the Aryan race and the consequential inferiority of the other races) and their flawed logic led to the concept of racial cleansing. That together with the erroneous idea that the Jews caused the surrender of Germany at the end of the First World War did not justify their horrendous actions.

English: Adolf Hitler
English: Adolf Hitler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hopefully I’ll hit on a much lighter topic next week.

Sun Rising in Kuakata, Bangladesh
Sun Rising in Kuakata, Bangladesh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Swings and roundabouts – a question of balance

The nature of precision
The nature of precision (Photo credit: Sergei Golyshev)

People are urged to strive for a “work/life balance”. This apparently implies that they are spending too much time working and not enough time going sky-diving, spear-fishing or taking the kids to the zoo. I doubt that it is ever phrased in this way to someone who is arriving at work at 8:45am and leaving at 4:45pm, having had a two hour lunch break.

Work-Life Balance
Work-Life Balance (Photo credit: Tanja FÖHR)

It is good advice in an era when a person may officially work 40 hours per week, but may actually work many more than that. In these days of smartphones and tablets it is often hard to keep work and home lives separate, and in many detective dramas on TV it is frequently made into a joke – the detective comes home, chats to his wife, his cellphone rings and he has to go and investigate a dead body. His wife is shown feeding his meal to the dog.

Of course some people, particularly high flyers, I think, thrive on the sort of life where they are never off duty. As Dogbert explains in his master class to the Pointy Haired Boss and the CEO, famous leaders work 16 hours a day and use their spare time reading about their industry. The PHB and CEO don’t like this so Dogbert asserts that famous leaders eat a lot of cake. Presumably the spouses of high flyers are the sort of people who are happy with the situation where their partners are never off duty.

The LEXUS LS600hL - Offical Vehicle of Chief E...
The LEXUS LS600hL – Offical Vehicle of Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In general balance is taken to be a good thing and something to be strived for. We are exhorted to maintain a life balance, to ensure that the balance of nature is not disturbed and so on. (Balance my life? I can’t even balance my chequebook!) On closer inspection however, it can be seen that a balance is an unnatural state of affairs and is basically unstable, and that in many cases the imagined state of balance just does not exist.

Everyone knows the piece of playground equipment  called a teeter-totter or see-saw. In physical terms the see-saw is a lever and fulcrum system. It only really works for playing on if the two children on the two ends are pretty much the same weight. If one of the kids is significantly heavier than the other the see-saw fails to function and rests in a stable state with the heavier kid rooted to the ground and the lighter one high in the air. If the heavier kid hops off the see-saw rapidly moves to another stable state, with the lighter child on the ground and the empty end in the air. No doubt tears ensue.

A Golden Retriever going over a teeter-totter ...
A Golden Retriever going over a teeter-totter at an agility competition. Edited (cropped) by Pharaoh Hound (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the kids are the about the same size there is still no single balance point. In physics terms, any position of the see-saw is now a stable point, but any displacement results in the see-saw swinging to one extreme or the other. Without an extension to the model physics can’t say what happens then!

A balance point in physics is unstable, as a small displacement to either side result in the system getting further and further from the balance point. It’s like a snowball balanced on a mountain top – a small shove and it keeps rolling faster and faster. True there is a point in the valley below where the snowball comes to rest and where a small displacement results in the snowball returning to the bottom, but this is not what I would call a balance point. To a physicist both are “equilibrium points” and what I have called a “balance point” is an unstable equilibrium point, while the bottom of the valley is a stable equilibrium point. To a physicist the “balanced” see-saw would actually be a “neutral equilibrium”.

Česky: Příklad vratké rovnovážné polohy.
Česky: Příklad vratké rovnovážné polohy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what sort of equilibrium is a “work/life balance”? It’s not a stable equilibrium since that would imply that the “work/life balance” would return to the starting point after a small displacement. That’s not the point of a work/life balance – we would hope that things would change for the better. Neither is it a neutral equilibrium since that would imply no effective change. Like a change of job but no change in life or work practises. If it were an unstable equilibrium that would imply that a small change would lead to more and more change and that would not be what was desired. Consequently I would not categorise a “work/life balance” as any sort of equilibrium, but I am playing with words a bit here!

Equilibrio instabile
Equilibrio instabile (Photo credit: uomoelettrico)

But most people are not physicists and it is obvious what is meant by the phrase – work less, play more, separate work from home, and so on. All good advice. I have a bigger issue with things like “the balance of nature”. Is there any such thing?

Well, “balance” implies stability and nature is not stable. It is a dynamic system, and because of that, any state is unlikely to be long-term. For instance, a mutation or environmental change may lead to a species rising to prominence. A later mutation or environmental change may result in yet another species displacing the latest dominant species and becoming prominent. The same applies to groups of species and the dinosaurs would be the most obvious example.

Dinosaur track
Dinosaur track (Photo credit: mcdlttx)

Also, the idea of balance implies some sort of reversibility. If a system strays from the balance point it should, in theory, be able to return to that balance point. In the case of “nature” or rather, what might be loosely called “systems of nature” there is no balance point to return to as any change, say the decimation of a species, allows other species to expand and maybe dominate the system. If the decimated species were to rebound, it would have to displace the newer species that have taken its niche. That said, there have been cases where a group of species have been reintroduced into an area and the ecology has “regenerated” and the result looks much like what was originally in the area.

regenerating kanuka
regenerating kanuka (Photo credit: Mollivan Jon)

Some, maybe most, of these regenerated areas are fragile and need constant tending by enthusiasts or they will change away from the regenerated state, maybe by invasions of plants and animals from elsewhere. That is not a reason to not bother with conservation – it’s merely a recognition that a regenerated state is not usually natural and that a lot of work is required to maintain the regenerated state.

Male Bellbird, Zealandia wildlife sanctuary. W...
Male Bellbird, Zealandia wildlife sanctuary. Wellington, New Zealand. Māori: Korimako (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One example of a regenerated area is Zealandia, a reserve in Wellington, New Zealand, of which I am a supporter. The reserve is only maintained in its regenerated state by an army of volunteers and a predator-proof fence. Nevertheless Zealandia is a wonderful place to visit where it is possible to see many species of animals and plants which are rare outside the reserve.

English: Lower Karori Reservior, looking North...
English: Lower Karori Reservior, looking North-East. Taken by Neil Leslie, Waitiangi Day 2006. Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Quite a Quiche

Late... Again ?
Late… Again ? (Photo credit: M_AlPhotography)

Ooops! Late again. I really have to get myself organised and get a post out on time. On time is sometime before last thing Sunday. Today is Tuesday!

Anyway, this time I’m going to do a cooking post as I can’t remember the last time that I did one. (It was 15th May 2013, actually). I cooked a quiche this weekend and it turned into two quiches. As I usually do I looked on the Internet for a recipe and came up with this one here. Yes, you are correct, I was using up some of the Christmas ham, but I do like quiches with ham in them. I also like quiches with leek or silver beet, but I didn’t have any of those at the time.

Ham and cheese quiches
Ham and cheese quiches

The recipe that I found doesn’t include the pastry and uses two 9 inch pastry shells, but my dish was around 10 inches across and I guessed that the area would be about the same. If I’d done the maths, I would have seen that one 9 inch shell would have an area of 81 * pi square inches, so two would come to 162 * pi square inches and the 10 inch pie dish would have an area of 100 * pi square inches, so I’d likely have around a third of the mixture left over.

imaginary calculation
imaginary calculation (Photo credit: monkeyinfez)

Anyway, I ploughed on, not realising the problem. I made some ‘short pastry’, which is basically just fat and flour and a little water to bind it. I mixed 5 ounces of margarine and 8 ounces of flour in a bowl. I used the technique of “rubbing in” the fat to the flour and this markedly changes the consistency of the mixture. It starts off with the flour being, well, powdery, but after mixing it with the margarine, the consistency changes to a more “bread crumb” structure. That is, the mixture has a more particulate structure, and the powderiness disappears. When just a little water is added and the mixture is kneaded a little it changes again to a smooth consistency and becomes a ball of dough. There are good reasons why these changes occur, physical and chemical ones, no doubt, but I find them fascinating. What early cook discovered these changes and thereby started the whole culinary business?

Baked pastry dough
Baked pastry dough (Photo credit: 3liz4)

I rolled out the pastry and lined the dish and stabbed the base of the pastry case with a knife. Then I put it into the oven (at around 200 degrees C for 15 minutes). As an experiment I didn’t line it or cover it and I didn’t fill the pastry case with beans or pastry beads or similar. It came out fine and that may be because the oven has a fan to circulate the heat.

The recipe calls for two cups of chopped ham and two cups of cheese. It also calls for dried onion, but I used half a normal onion, which I lightly fried first. Two cups of chopped ham seems a lot when you are slicing it off the bone and then cutting it into small bits. The cheese was OK, and grating that amount doesn’t take long. I had the cheese, ham and onion in a bowl and it already looked a lot.

Grated Cheese
Grated Cheese (Photo credit: Annie Mole)

I used two cups of milk instead of cream and added the four eggs to it. It became obvious that there was too much mixture for the pie dish that I had! I put a large part of the ham, cheese and onion into the pastry case and tipped a similarly large amount of the liquid mixture over it and put it into the oven for the requisite 35 – 40 minutes.

Large quiche
Large quiche

While that was cooking I grabbed a smaller dish and made some more pastry to line it. Half of the above quantities was enough and I put the pastry in the oven with the first quiche for 15 minutes. Again it came out OK, and I filled it with the rest of the mixtures and they filled nicely, so into the oven it went. At this stage I managed to burn myself a little on one of the oven racks.

Smaller quiche
Smaller quiche

Both quiches came out looking fine, and I’m pleased to report they tasted fine too!

Two quiches
Two quiches

Some people may be wondering what re-ignited my interest in cookery. Well, I’d been complaining for some time about my wife’s scales, as it is difficult to measure small quantities on them. So she bought me a small electronic scales for Christmas and I love them! They have an incremental function on them so that you can put a dish on the scales, set the scale to zero, add the correct amount of an ingredient, set the scales to zero again and add another ingredient into the dish and so on. The scales also have a timer function for the actual cooking.

Electronic cooking scales
Electronic cooking scales

Before Christmas I bought a heat pad, so that I could raise bread and other yeast doughs in a more consistent way. Watch out for more blogs about bread making!

Heating pad

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