“The Last Beautiful Woman” publication details

I have published my novel, “The Last Beautiful Woman” in paperback and several electronic versions. Please take a look and see if you like it. The details are below.

  • Firstly, the paperback version. This is to be found on Amazon here. The link refers to the American Amazon site and your local Amazon site may also have the book. Please search for my name, “Cliff Pratt”, and ensure that you have selected the paperback version if that is the one that you want.
  • Secondly, the Kindle eBook version, which can be read on Kindle devices or through an app on Android and Apple platforms. This can be found on the Amazon Kindle Store here. Once again it may be available on your local Kindle site. Search for my name.
  • Thirdly, it is available as an eBook on Kobo here. The Kobo eReader app is available for Android and for Apple devices, and there is also a Kobo app for Windows and Mac desktops, but unfortunately, not one for Linux desktops. There are Linux eReader apps which will read many eBook types and you may find one which will read Kobo eBooks, which are simply ePub format.
  • Fourthly and finally, I have uploaded my novel to SmashWords. As well as the eBook being available on the SmashWords site itself, SmashWords distributes uploaded eBooks to several other bookshop sites as well. At SmashWords eBooks are available in several formats, including PDF. You should be able to find one in a format that suits you there!

Here’s the ‘teaser’ for the book. Please take a look!

What is it like to live at least three times as long as the average human? Jenna has just passed her one hundred and fiftieth birthday and looks to be just over thirty, and she is, so far as she knows, unique. She lives in isolation from the rest of the human race in an inaccessible and protected location known simply as “her home”.

Although she is physically isolated, she still communicates extensively with other people. She has a few loyal staff in her retreat, and a number of others around the world. She has enormous global influence and talks to the leaders of the nations and other powerful people around the world by videoconference and videophone almost every day.

She is reconsidering the reasons for her isolation, and wonders whether those reasons still apply. How did she come to be living in isolation. Is it time for the isolation to end?

She sees in an article by a newspaper reporter an indication that, perhaps, her affect on society has not been completely positive. She decides to ask the newspaper reporter to visit her to discuss his views, but she underestimates the effect of this break in one hundred years of tradition. George, the reporter, and his friends are sucked into a whirlwind of global interest.

Their lives will never be the same again.

So long. I may be back some time.

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My first post on this blog was an introductory post, posted on January 24, 2013, and I’ve posted roughly once a week since that time. In recent times, it has become a real chore to keep up this schedule, and since it is no longer fun to write a post every week, I’ve decided to stop. I may decide to post here occasionally, and I may return to the weekly schedule sometime in the future.

Another factor that has influenced my decision to take a break is that I am concerned that I am repeating myself. I seem to return to the same or similar topics much of the time, and this spells ‘boring’. Maybe just for me, but possibly for any readers.

Recently I’ve started to do a different sort of writing. I’ve been writing short stories and novellas or longer stories and I’ve collected them here. Please take a look and, if you wish, send me some feedback.

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Do as you would be done by.

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In the book the Water Babies by Charles Kingsley there are two fairies, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. These two fairies embody two principles of altruism.

Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby represents the principle that if you want other people to treat you well, then it would be advisable to treat them like you would wish other people to treat you. Obviously, everyone wants to be treated well by others.

Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid represents the other side of the coin. If you treat other people badly you can expect others to treat you badly too. Together the two fairies represent the Golden Rule.

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This implies the philosophical concept that other people are internally much like you. They are thinking beings with feelings, beliefs, and prejudices, just like you. Even if they are philosophical zombies it be a good idea to treat them as if they actually were conscious, sentient beings, because, if they are zombies of this sort, they are constrained to act as if they were conscious, sentient beings.

Unfortunately there are people who don’t know about the Golden Rule, and who return kindness with unkindness. The sort of people who make friends with people only to scam them. As an aside, I find such people incomprehensible. Why would anyone make friends with a pensioner, say, just to get at their life savings.

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Of course, such people may have been treated in this way themselves, but, reading between the lines, that doesn’t seem so. Or they may have an addiction or something which drives them to desperate measures. It’s true that some scammers do have a gambling addition, but others just splurge the stolen money on luxuries.

Scammers obviously don’t believe in the dictum that you should do as you would be done by, but it seems that greed or addition makes them believe that it is acceptable to take money from vulnerable people, though when questioned, they are often unable to explain why they have committed the crime.

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Some may say “Oh, but I meant to pay it back,” and stolen money is sometimes characterised as “loans”, but after the second or third time of committing similar crimes, one wonders how they can hide from themselves the fact that paying back the “loan” is never going to happen.

If someone treats you in a way that you certainly don’t want to be treated, and that you wouldn’t want to treat other in that manner, what options are there?

One of the options is to “turn the other cheek“. This option  is the one where you continue to treat the person in the same way, presumably in the hope that he or she will realise that they have harmed you and will change their ways. This is very unlikely to work in the majority of cases, but it allows you to feel morally superior. Big deal.

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If the harm is a crime, like conning money out of you, you have the options of going to the authorities with the problem but this goes against the golden rule. If you imagine that you were a scammer, then you would not like to be arrest and charged of a crime. You would imagine that it would be better for the conned person to forgive you for the crime, and that you, as an imaginary scammer, would change your ways.

The Golden Rule assumes that there is mutual empathy between you and other people. With normal well adjusted people this is so, but there are enough of the other sort for this strategy to be a big risk. Scammers and thieves do not have empathy for their victims. They can’t imagine that the iPad that they have stolen contains irreplaceable photos, (did you not back them up?) and in addition, it took you months to save up the money to buy it.

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One of the issues is that fraudsters almost always come across as friendly and helpful when they gain the trust of the person that they are aiming to defraud. They are very plausible, otherwise, when they ask you for a “loan” or to “invest” in some dodgy scheme you would immediately become suspicious.

I don’t think that society has an answer to this issue yet. If a fraudster is reported to the police, is arrest and charged, found guilty and tossed into jail, then all that happens is that the fraudster spends some time there, then comes out and immediately starts looking for someone new to defraud. There is no serious attempt to rehabilitate them.

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It is often said in court that a person who is charged with a crime has shown remorse. That may be so, but even if the remorse is genuine, and not just regret at being caught, showing remorse doesn’t really prove that the perpetrator of the fraud has fundamentally changed.

There seems to be a certain blindness or lack of forethought in some people. To a large extent they don’t think that their actions will deprive their victim of money or possessions, and also they don’t believe that they will be caught. In the vast majority of a cases they will be caught.

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This blindness also occurs in those who have repeated business failures. These days, when we are told that various entrepreneurs have succeeded in business in spite of academic difficulties and made millions, then the less competent and the downright incompetent see this as a green light to fail and fail again.

While it is true that successful entrepreneurs may have had a few failures in the past, this does not imply that all who try will, eventually, succeed. In fact the reverse is true. Many people will fail repeated and never ever succeed. This is a dangerous example of survivorship bias.

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It would be nice if everyone followed the Golden Rule, but unless the nature of humans changes, that is impossible. While there are still people around who do not follow the golden rule, there will be scams and scammers, and it is difficult to think of a way to address the issue, so ensure that if anyone asks you for money, that you check with someone else that they borrowed money from before you. It may end the friendship, but it might save you from a nasty surprise.

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Looking for Inspiration

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I suppose that everyone has seen the so-called “Inspirational Quotes“. If you haven’t, it is unlikely that you have been using the Internet a lot! Inspirational Quotes are short sentences, usually totally devoid of context that, supposedly, provide guidance or inspiration for those who need it. Usually the quotation is in large font applied over the top of a sunset, or a couple hand in hand, or a cute puppy or other animal.

Since the quotation is usually without context, the reader is free to apply it however he or she wants. You can apply it to your own situation, whatever that might be. A large portion of the quotes exhort the reader to just get up and do it, whatever it might be. The idea is that one should take one’s chance and go for it.

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This is all well and good if the advice is appropriate. The original writer has no way of knowing this. Someone might take the message as a sign to get out of a situation where they are safe and comfortable and to take risks. Unfortunately, if this turns out to be a mistake, there is usually no way back.

Many of the inspirational quotations have a religious slant to them.  Søren Kierkegaard reportedly said “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” It’s easy to make fun of inspirational quotes, both religious and secular, such as the foregoing. After, if he wasn’t himself when he made the quotation, what was he? It is so devoid of context that one can’t help asking oneself what one is supposed to do to become oneself?

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Can the quotations be dangerous? I suppose that if one is depressed or suicidal it would be unfortunate to come across a quotation that said, basically, “just do it,” but it is unlikely that a simple quotation like that would actually incite suicide.

I suspect that most of the inspirational quotations are pretty benign. People look at them and are momentarily uplifted or cheered up by then, but then just carry on with their lives. The quotations may help them cope with a difficult situation or help them be happy in the situation that they find themselves in. I doubt that the motivation goes deep enough to completely change their lives, but I don’t know if anyone has ever checked or studied the phenomenon.

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After I started thinking about inspirational quotations, I wondered who it is who writes the things. Someone must spend a lot of time either extracting them from online books and pages and maybe they even type them up from paper books! In many cases they then paste the text onto pretty pictures of all sorts of things. Sunsets seem to be a favourite.

Then I discovered the on-line generators for these things. Some of them just allow you to type in whatever you like, but some of them will generate the whole thing for you. One that I’ve played with a bit is InspiroBot, which produces quotations using some sort of algorithm, and calls itself an Artificial Intelligence. It produces image/quote combinations which range from ones which seem sense free to those that seem like they mean something.

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I was wondering how the meme arose, then I though back to the times when computers were just entering the workplace. Way back when printers could only print letters and numbers people would draw something using just letters and numbers. If you went up close you could see the letters and numbers but from a distance the different densities of the letters looked like a image of something, so people covered whole walls with, say, a picture of an astronaut, or a pinup.

When printers could print images these were replaced with smaller pictures of astronauts or pinups or someone’s kids. Then someone somewhere decided to inspire their staff with a poster or picture with an inspiring caption. Naturally spoof and satires of these soon appeared, and also people started putting up quotations that had inspired them, and spoofs and satires of those also appeared.

Nowadays of course, the whole thing has moved to “social media”. People spot a quotation which appeals to them and post it on Facebook. This quite often means that you might see the same “inspirational posting” several times, as other people share it with their friends which might include you!

I’m intrigued by the programs that produce the quotations by algorithmic means. Since they produce only a short sentence, there’s more chance that you can see sense in the result, than there would be if the algorithm produced a whole article or something. I’ve found one site where an algorithm produces a small article on each refresh, and the results seem to me to be a bit odd when I try to make sense of them.

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It reminds me of a famous hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal on the unwary editors of an academic journal. Sokal wrote an article which was composed of buzzwords and references to Post Modern writers, since he believed that all that was required of an article to get it published was the buzzwords and the gratuitous references to Post Modern writers.

He succeeded in getting it published, which ironically gives the article meaning of exactly the sort that he was ridiculing. While it had no meaning in the context of an academic article, it was an unfavourable commentary on the meanings and lack of rigour espoused by the Post Modern movement. If you are interested in producing your own Sokal-type article, there is a web site called “The Post Modern Essay generator, which will do it for you.

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So, are all, or the majority of inspirational quotations generated by an algorithm or do people create them and post them themselves? I think that most are created by people. At least the quotes are, but the actual postings may not be. The quotes seem to, in most cases, almost make sense, but they don’t always seem to match with the pictures. I’d guess that people are using a generator but posting their quotes, whether gleaned from elsewhere or created by themselves, and the picture is more or less random and may not match the quotation.

Mental Illness

Woman diagnosed with mania
Woman diagnosed with mania

More and more people are being diagnosed with mental illnesses these days. At least that’t the way it appears. Depression, which I suffer from a little, is rife and almost everyone knows someone who suffers from depression or suffers it themselves.

Schools now have special teachers or teachers’ aides to assist in the management of children with autism and other similar conditions. Sometimes these children cause significant disruption in classrooms and measures to handle this are almost always put into place.

It is unclear whether or not there is a real rise in these conditions. It may be that better diagnosis of these conditions is the cause of the upwards trend in the number of diagnoses of these conditions. Certainly I don’t recall there being a lot of mentally ill people when I was growing up. There were always people who were “different” in some ways, and as a result were often teased or tormented by others of the same age. Hopefully that at least we have left behind us.

Mental illness - blanket man
Mental illness – blanket man

It’s in the lesser mental ailments that I think that we have seen more diagnosis and consequent steep rise. For instance, one hears of the “autism spectrum”. I had erroneously assumed that everyone was on the autism spectrum somewhere with most being on the very low end and that those diagnosed with “autism” were located higher up the spectrum.  Reading a few items on the Internet seems to prove me wrong and that there are people on the spectrum and people who aren’t.

When I was young everyone knew of someone whose mother always smelled of alcohol and who had perhaps crashed a car while drunk. Alcoholism was not mentioned as such, so I’m unsure if such a thing was recognised in those days. Alcoholics Anonymous was started in 1935, and I certainly heard of them at some stage when growing up.

AA awareness
AA awareness

Also most families had a creepy uncle who was kept away from the young girls and boys of the family. These days we have “online grooming” and paedophile registers. When I was young scandals were usually dealt with in the family, and steps were taken to avoid situations occurring that led to the scandal. Unfortunately this meant that the scandal was hidden and the victims were often made to feel guilty, when it was not their fault in any way.

With online grooming, the guilty person can be a complete stranger to the child, and this opens a whole new can of worms. Do parents severely restrict a child’s online access and police them every minute that they are online, or do they educate the children about the dangers? Obviously they need to do both. The first strategy mitigates the danger and the second prepares the child for those occasions when the first strategy fails.

Danger
Danger

When I was young, there was an occasional person who we learnt to avoid. The man on the corner with the fierce dog. The crazy cat lady who constantly talked to herself. The compulsive hoarder who built up a pile of junk in their front yard. These people are still with us, but now they have their own television programmes! They’ve always been with us, and likely always will. They are much more noticeable these days because the television programmes, but I suspect that there aren’t any more of them than there used to be.

I recall one old lady who lived alone. I think that she would, these days, be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or similar. She would wander the streets in her nightie and her robe and have to be taken back home by someone, usually a neighbour or the police. Now and then one of these confused older people would wander off and get lost sparking full scale searches. This still happens today and sadly, not all such cases are resolved happily.

Dementia Praecox
Dementia Praecox

In some ways the rise of the nuclear family and the relative decline of the extended family may have led to the higher visibility of mental illness in society. The nuclear family, mum, dad, and kids has no room for those who mentally don’t fit in. The extended family however can handle the less mentally stable family members to some extent. Adult children can take turns at looking after granny, or maybe pay for grannies care between them. The cousin who is socially inept or who is slightly autistic can find a niche in an extended family.

This can lead to less visibility of much mental illness as the family is unlikely to mention such problems outside of the family and the ill person may be helped by the familiar and nurturing environment.

Asylum
Asylum

Some mental illnesses, however, can’t be handled in this way. The mentally ill person may be violent towards other or to themselves. They may be dangerous to the public, as in the case of the drunk or drugged driver. They may be so out of tune with the world that they need professional help.

In today’s world professional help is often available. In some cases drugs can be effective, as in the case of depression and bipolar disorder. In others there is the possibility of committal to a psychiatric hospital. Such places are generally not nice. The patients are generally gravely ill, and nursers and carers in the hospitals have utmost respect. Often such hospitals are underfunded and can be over crowded. Efforts to make them look better often make then look sad.

Sadness
Sadness

In the past, even in some cases in the near past, mental hospitals or asylums were places of horror. The patients often lived in squalor, were strictly restrained and were subjected to horrific “treatments”. Fortunately treatment of mental illnesses has improved significantly over the last hundred years or so. Let’s hope it continues to get better.

Of the two hypotheses as to why the rate of mental illness has increased, I definitely think that the better reporting has been the main cause. That is exacerbated by the reduction in the level at which such problems are reported. Depression would not have considered an illness at one time, for example, and autism is reported more frequently because people are aware of it. I certainly don’t believe that there is more mental illness that when we were young. It’s certainly a lot more visible.

Sadness or depression?
Sadness or depression?

Writing

Japanese writing
Japanese writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written about my process or lack of one when writing these posts. They sort of grow from an idea, a seed, a notion, a comment on something I’ve read. I rarely have a plan. I rarely have even an intro in mind and I definitely don’t have a finish in mind.

Mostly I write these 1000 word posts. In the past I’ve written some poetry, much of which I can reread without wincing too much. I’ve had goes at writing stories, technical articles and philosophical pieces of various lengths. I’ve never published any of this stuff, as I’ve never considered it good enough to be worth the effort. Or maybe I’m just lazy.

My success in keeping the blog going for over 250 posts has encouraged me. I’ve lately been writing something which I hope to make novel length, and I’ve learnt a few things.

When I thought about writing something novel length I researched the topic of novel writing a little. I found that a useful length for a novel is around a hundred thousand words. The number doesn’t scare me, as I’ve written around 250,000 words in this blog, admittedly spread over five years or so. If I write 1,000 words a day for one hundred days, that’ll do it. (Yeah right!)

The Majestic Hotel - geograph.org.uk - 654966
The Majestic Hotel – geograph.org.uk – 654966 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advice about novel writing is scary though. You have to a plot, a timeline, a list of characters, and so on. Yikes! Then I stumbled upon a method called the snowflake method. The author writes that you still need the plan, the character biographies, and spreadsheets! Spreadsheets for goodness sake! But his overall concept attracted me. It’s based on a fractal called the Koch snowflake curve.

The Koch curve is easy to draw. First you draw an equilateral triangle, then you divide each side into three. On the middle bit you construct and outwards facing triangle. Then you erase the middle thirds of the original triangle and bingo, you have a six pointed star. Then you repeat this process a few times and end up with a fuzzy six lobed figure – the start of the Koch curve. Since this is a fractal you could do this forever and produce a rather boring snowflake shape.

A Koch curve has an infinitely repeating self-...
A Koch curve has an infinitely repeating self-similarity when it is magnified. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THAT process I could work with. Unfortunately when I read further on, as I said above, the author recommends spreadsheets, and character biographies and so on. I find that very off putting.

I had an idea, right from the start, for the main theme, the crux if you like. I had a main character. I had some of the development of the story, and some of the locations that the story took place in. And a scary fate, which led to the key story line. All good. But no supporting characters and no real way to go from premise to conclusion.

Spreadsheet
Spreadsheet

I decided to just go for it. While spreadsheets and lists sound like a good idea, I don’t think that I could work that way. So I just started.

I set up the main character in the prime location and I wrote his story. I filled in his back story, and suddenly he had a companion! I’m not too sure where she came from but the main character needed her. She knew the fate of the main character, and became close to him in spite of it. A potential reader, should the story ever get finished, is only given hints as to what that fate is.

In some sort of seismic story shift the main character became the son of the character facing the scary fate, and the father also acquired a partner. The son would also face the same fate but long in the future.

Now I had four characters needing a back story. Slowly but surely the female companion of the main character took over and became the main character. How did that happen? She quickly acquired a family who were mostly less important characters. Well, at the moment that’s true, but who knows? Certainly not me, and I’m writing the damn story!

The female main character had a female friend from the start. Well, from when she appeared that is. Originally the friend was going to serve as a brash contrast to the quietness of the female main character, but she swiftly mellowed to be just a bit more lively than the female main character. The friendship between the two girls became deeper and they became true BFFs. That meant that the friend had to come along with the now main character and soon developed her own story lines in parallel to her friend. She even gained a male partner of her own.

The main male character’s mother, the wife of the character who was the original main character also blossomed into a major character. She had to mentor the female main character and her origins became relevant so she also developed a story line.

Queen Wilhelmina & Juliana
Queen Wilhelmina & Juliana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pause for thought. Oh yes, an additional theme running through the story is an unknown technology that enables a few things. If all goes well, it will remain a secondary theme and won’t crucially change any of the story line. It won’t be a magic bullet, and the characters will have to work hard to figure it out, like real technology. It won’t save any lives or change the characters into god like beings, if I have anything to do with it. But what do I know? I’m only writing the story. At the moment there only the merest hint of a link between the technology and the fate awaiting the main male characters.

So, at around 40,000 words, aiming for 100,000, where am I? Well, I started with one male character and an idea, but the girls have largely taken over, which is weird. They are strangely chaste – no sex scenes thank the little gods, but they are passionate – think Jane Austen. The girls outshine the boys in almost all departments. A gay couple appeared from nowhere. The BFF is poised for a major story thread. A couple of minor characters are begging for a story line, and I need to step back and review what I’ve done so far.

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been illuminating. It’s sort of like the snowflake method of perpetual refinement, and sort of like sheer random development, a mind dump put into words. I can only wonder where it will take me from here.

Snowflake
Snowflake

Two Hundred and Fifty

Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari 250 GTO

This post will be my 250th. 250 times approximation 1,000 words. A quarter of a million words. Wow. I didn’t think that I could do it. I hit the target. I reached the summit of Everest. I ran a marathon. And other similar metaphors for success.

Of course, I could be posting into a void. I see that I get, usually, a few dozen views for each post and some people are actually “following” me. I even, now and then, get a comment. I’ve done zero in the way of self promotion. I finish each post, figuratively pat it on its back and send it on its way, never to be seen again.

On its way
On its way

This doesn’t concern me. It seems that, for me, writing this blog is a bit like playing a piano in an empty room, or doing a jigsaw on the Internet. The reward is in the doing. I certainly feel a sense of achievement when I hit the “Publish” button, but I don’t often follow up on the post.

What I found amazing is my ability to ramble on for 1,000 words on any subject. I reckon that I could probably stretch any subject out to 1,000 words. In fact, I usually go over. Around the 300 to 400 word mark I’m wondering if I will reach the 1,000, and then suddenly I’m a couple of dozen words past the mark and wondering how to stop. Many times I will just stop so if you think I dropped a subject abruptly, you are probably right.

Analog television ends in Japan
Analog television ends in Japan

Some subjects have come up more than once. If you have been a regular reader you will have noticed themes running through my posts. There’s science, particularly physics and cosmology, there’s philosophy, there’s maths. I’ve tried to steer away from politics, but Trump has crept in there somewhere.

There’s weather, there’s seasons, there’s discussion on society, as I see it, and occasionally I discuss my posts themselves. These things are, obviously, the things that interest me, the things that I tend to think about.

River Arun
River Arun

Apparently I have 144 followers. That’s 144 more than I expected. I hope that some of them read my posts on a regular basis, but that’s not necessary. I hope that more dip in from time to time and find some interest nugget.

That sound disparaging to my followers, but that’s not my intent. My intent is to reflect on the realities of blogging. I follow other blogs, but I don’t read all the posts on those blogs. Maybe one or two of them I read pretty much every time the blogger posts a new post.

Someone's blog post
Someone’s blog post

That’s the reality of blogging I think. Millions of blog plots are published every day, and I reckon that very few of them are read by more than one or two people at the most. Some blogs strike the jackpot, though, and have millions of followers.

I’d guess that the big blogs are about politics in some shape or form, or fashion and fashion hints and tips. Maybe cooking? I’ve seen a few cooking blogs and they seem to be quite popular. Some big firms have taken to publishing a blog. Some people blog about their illnesses and their battles with it. The best of the latter can be both sad and uplifting.

Protest
Protest

You know the sort I mean? You go to the firm’s website and there’s a button or menu item that proudly proclaims “Blog”. When you look at the blog, it’s simply a list of what the CEO and board have been up to, or releases of new products, or sometimes posts about workers at the firm getting involved with the local community. All good earnest stuff, but scarcely riveting. I wonder how many followers they get? Probably about as many as me! I hope so. At least they are trying.

(Approaching 600 words of waffle. I can do it!)

Since I’m not doing a political blog, I don’t think that anything I post is controversial, which is probably reflected in the number of my followers. I don’t stir up any furores with my words on Plato’s Cave analogy, so far as I know. I get no furious comments about my views on Schrodinger’s Cat. “You should see what he says about Plato’s Cave! You must go on there and refute it!” Nah, doesn’t happen!

Plato's Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan...
Plato’s Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan Saenredam (1565-1607) after a painting of Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem (1562-1638) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, the low number of hits doesn’t worry me. It would be a hassle if suddenly my followers shot up to thousands, and I felt obligated to provide all these people an interesting post on a regular basis. As it is I can ramble on about prime numbers or the relationship between the different number sets and potentially only disappoint a few people. If any.

What have I learnt from all this blogging? That it is hard. It’s not just a matter of sitting down and blasting out a 1,000 words. Well sometimes it is, actually, but most times I grind it out in 100 word or so chunks. I aim to write the blog on Sunday and add pictures and publish on Monday.

Hard work
Hard work

Sometimes I miss the Monday deadline, out of sheer forgetfulness, mostly and pop it out on Tuesday or even later. Sometimes I forget to write my post until late on Sunday, but it is only rarely that I have to write it on Monday or even later. So far as I can tell, I’ve not completely missed a weekly post since the earliest days.

This is not the first blog I’ve tried to write. I had several goes before this one and I think that maybe this attempt “stuck” because I set out my aim to publish weekly early on. Maybe. It may also be the target of 250 posts that I set myself early on. Now I’ve achieved that goal.

Mud
Mud

So what next? I’ve not decided. I might stop now, or I might go on to 500. I may not know right up until the last minute. 500 posts is approaching 10 years of posts which seems a phenomenally long time. But then again, 250 posts is around 5 years of posts and I achieved that. We’ll have to see.

(As I sail past 1,000 words, I reflect that I can extract that many words from practically nothing. It seems to be a knack.)

Fireworks in NZ
Fireworks in NZ

The Universe in a Hair Tie

Hair Ties
Hair Ties

I’m constantly bemused by the Universe. Why are some things the way they are? What is the Big Bang all about? Why Quantum? Why do people seemingly like to kill other people? Obviously on average this last is untrue, but that’s little comfort when a significant portion appears to be inflicting mayhem, in the forms of wars, terrorism, traffic accidents and even simple murder, on other people.

But let’s not get too serious. One quirk of the universe caught my eye in the supermarket. No, it wasn’t the solid wall of fizzy and sugary drinks. It wasn’t the half wall of cotton wool masquerading as bread. It wasn’t even the rows of vegetables liberally sprayed to make them look fresh, or the wall of salty crunchy snacks indistinguishable in look and taste to everyone except teenage boys who are picky connoisseurs of the things.

Chip Aisle
Chip Aisle

No, it was a humble object, a truncated ice cream cone shaped in plastic containing a small bag of hair ties, the sort of thing that girls use to put their hair in bunches. At first sight a good idea. It can sit on the dressing table, resting on the flat base, and the owner can remove one or two ties as required and replace them in due course.

Except – The truncated cone didn’t look very stable and the ball just rested on the cone, and would presumably roll away if the cone was upset. And the ball. In my limited experience of hair ties, they end up capturing loose hairs, the sparkly sheath snaps exposing the elastic core, or the elastic core breaks rendering them useless. They don’t have a long life.

Pigtails
Pigtails

In addition they get lost. Just like the planet of lost pens there is a planet of lost hair ties. Like the pens the hair ties rings around the planet just as ice and rocks form rings around Saturn. Just like a pen you can put one down anywhere and when you come back the hair tie has completely disappeared. Because of some law of probability or something sometimes there’s a pen in its place bearing the logo of some firm that you’ve never heard of and which operates in a different area to the one that you live in.

So after a while the semi stable holder of a ball of hair ties becomes a depleted bunch of hairy broken hair ties and a tipped over holder which has rolled off under the bed. I admit that much of the above is speculation. I’m not a girl, don’t wear hair ties, and I’m not an astronomer or statistician. But I suggest you try the experiment. Buy an ice cream holder and hair tie ball set and observe what happens. I reckon that it will be uncannily like the scenario I suggest above.

Ice Cream Cone
Ice Cream Cone

But think of all the unlikely things that had to happen to create that unlikely supermarket item. Firstly we had to have the Big Bang. But not just any Big Bang. This one. A slightly different Big Bang may not have resulted in a liveable Universe. The Big Bang might also have created a liveable Universe but not one where life evolved.

Life evolves on planets. Planets revolve around stars. Stars and planets have to be of right sort that life can evolve on. One of the things that is essential is a mix of elements which can only be created in the heart of a star. You see, the Universe is mostly hydrogen, as free protons, the occasional hydrogen atom, and the even rarer hydrogen molecules.

Pens
Pens

And that would be it, but some of the hydrogen/protons condensed into clumps or clouds, which grew until gravity compressed the hydrogen atoms to the point where they fused and produced helium and gave off energy. Stars. Generation I stars. Eventually pressures increased to the point where other elements started to be produced, and finally the stars exploded!

The Big Bang that started all this is the precise one that embodied or encoded all the nuclear interactions that I’ve just mentioned. Oh, there is a possibility that there was only one possible Big Bang – the one that led to us, but that doesn’t explain why all the universal constants have the values that they do. If any had been slightly different we wouldn’t be here.

Big Bang
Big Bang

When the stars exploded all the elements necessary to life were blasted into space. Over billions of years these very rare elements condensed to become our sun, and our earth. The earth and any rocky earthlike planet consists of a vast collection very rare atoms. We consist of a vast collection of very rare atoms that have somehow sprung to life. You can almost see the point of that religionists make when they say that such happenings as you and I could not have occurred by chance.

But of course they are wrong. Chance is the only reason for things happening, and it is so long since the Big Bang that unusual clusters of rare atoms, such as us, even though they are of very low probability, have come to pass, and all this was implicit in the Big Bang.

Periodic Table
Periodic Table

By some chance some collection of very rare elements sat down one day and thought about hair ties and how to keep them tidy and protect them from being lost and came up with the ice creme cone concept. I’ve wondered about the concept above, and whether or not it is in fact a useful one. My feeling is that the flaws outweigh the advantages, but of course I may be wrong.

For all I know, the concept works fine, and is the greatest advance in hair tie technology since someone had the original concept of a hair tie. When you think about it, it is a pretty cool technology which does away with the need for ribbons and strings, and the difficulties of tying and adjusting them. The ice cream cone holder concept could be the next step in the evolution of hair technology.

Hair Tie Balls
Hair Tie Balls

The truly wondrous thing though, is that the ice cream cone hair tie holder concept and its execution and appearance on the supermarket shelves is implicit in the Big Bang. The Big Bang led to stars, supernovas, more stars, planets, life, supermarkets and ice cream cone hair tie holders, and that is truly amazing.

Supermarket
Supermarket

The Lurg

The Lurg
The Lurg. This lady does not have the lurg. She looks amazingly healthy so this is a set up. If she had the lurg you would not instantly and would contemplate being elsewhere as soon as possible.

The invading army expanded in both directions from their beachhead. Soon they were almost everywhere, even invading the outlying areas. The resistance had little time to prepare, but soon they were building up their forces. The battle raged everywhere, noticeably raising the temperature.

Yes, I have the lurgy. It started a week ago with a sore throat and progressed to a crippling cough. Soon I was aching all over and doing anything at was getting very hard. My muscles ached from coughing and my back hurt, probably as a secondary result of the coughing.

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases
Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

I felt hot and sweaty, and got an appointment with the doctor. She told me that it was a “viral infection” and that I had to “last it out”. I didn’t have bronchitis or pneumonia fortunately, so I came out of the medical centre with no prescription. That’s fine by me. Antibiotics wouldn’t help with a viral infection and most cold “remedies” are hokum.

What I had was a bit more than a cold though, so over the next few days I was mostly collapsed in bed, sometimes listening to radio or playing games on the tablet. Did I feel sorry for myself? Not really, but my mood was sombre. Even in the depths of depression I haven’t felt sorry for myself and I rarely do. It seems a pointless way to feel, and depression, for me, is colouring of the world as grey (but see below), not a personal attack by the Universe.

Depression
Depression means many things. I was searching for an image related to the mental condition but came up with the meteorologic phenomenon instead.

The thing about this particular “viral infection” is that it has left me feeling weak and tired 24 hours a day. Sleep has not been easy as I wake up sweating and coughing several times a night, once I drop off. It hasn’t been too good for my wife who has been disturbed by my nocturnal coughing spells.

Only once, fortunately, was I woken by the shivers. I hate the shivers. I felt reasonably warm in bed but my body decided it wasn’t. I struggled against the shivers for a while then snaked an arm out to grab a sweater. Fighting the weakness and the shakes I managed to pull the sweater on and still the shivers without getting out bed, then relaxed into the warmth. Of course I was soaking in sweat when I woke up. Yuck!

Warm bed
Warm bed

A deep cold or maybe flu like this makes things hard to do. There’s a general feeling of weakness, but I think that’s mostly a mental thing. I had to swing an axe at some blocks of wood out of necessity (It’s winter here) but I was able to do it, albeit with lengthy pauses to cough my lungs out, Muscles complain if you ask them to do work, but with “viral infection” they do that anyway.

Maybe the system is marshalling all resources to attack the invader and resents having to let resources go to other ends. Speaking of resources, food and drink lose their savour with a cold like this. Solid food tastes of nothing much and tea and coffee taste strange. (I don’t actually drink coffee so I’m extrapolating here!) I don’t know why this happens, but it’s like half of your taste buds are MIA and the others only have time to register “food of some sort”.

Tastebuds
Tastebuds

Also you eat at strange times. Struggling out of bed, it is often quite late in the morning before breakfast happens. Since my usual breakfast is pretty bland (oat biscuits and milk) you can imagine what it tastes like… Well pulped cardboard would probably have more flavour.

Lunch time has been straying into the early afternoon. Whatever is for lunch, it is probably quick and easy. Tinned soup, something on toast, or similar. Not that I can taste what it is, of course. I made scrambled eggs today (whisk eggs, pinch of salt, milk if wanted, pepper if wanted) and I had eaten half of it before I realised that I had forgotten the pinch of salt In normal times I would have spotted that in the first mouthful, even though I only use a little.

Scrambled eggs
Scrambled eggs

The really annoying thing, though, over the course of the battle for my body is that my brain functions have been “softened”. I think that’s the best word. Just like a landscape is softened by a veil of rain, my brain feels a little fuzzy, like an out of focus photograph. The sharp edges are still there, though it is more of an effort to utilise them.

Puzzles, for example, are doable, but with more effort than usual. I quite like Sudoku puzzles and can complete them at my usual level, but I’m tired afterwards. Even Solitaire (what else can you do when you can’t go out, when you’ve completed all the Sudoku puzzles available to you) can seem like a pretty daunting proposition.

Sudoku
Sudoku

I was going to mention colour, wasn’t I? Colour leaches from the world much like it does when depression hits. You look at something and the colours are there – you can notice to a block of red in something for instance – but somehow colour doesn’t figure much in the composite image that your eyes report to your, or is dropped as irrelevant by your brain. Something in the visual presentation of your vision system appears to dial down the colours.

It doesn’t go completely monochrome (though deep depression does, occasionally, for me). It’s just that colour seems to lose significance. It’s AS IF everything was grey and white until you actually look specifically at something. Still it is not as unpleasant as those time when depression blasts everything with light, where everything feels metallic, there is a metallic taste in the mouth. Total sensory overload that won’t stop. I call it the “neon world”.

Grey Skies - Belgium
Grey Skies – Belgium

I’m approaching the end of this post, which shows that I must be much improved from how I was before! Yeah! Yeah, the defenders of my internal galaxy! I still have the nose runs and still have the coughs, but the aches have retreated to only the coughing muscles. I think that I’m going to survive. Well, I always knew I would really, but it’s hard to maintain the positiveness when you’ve been coughing for 10 minutes and can’t see the end.

White blood cells
White blood cells