Round the Bays

Astronaut's photo of Wellington, New Zealand. ...
Astronaut’s photo of Wellington, New Zealand. North roughly at top of image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, today I took part in the local “Round the Bays” event. Thousands of people gave up their Sundays to run or walk en mass along the roads that circle the bays of this city. Many other cities have similar events. Participants can choose to run or walk or something in between, over distances ranging from 6.5km to a half marathon (just over 21km). I chose the middle 10km option.

As I was walking by myself this year I caught the train to town and therefore arrived before the runners who chose the longer distance had been started off. The start area was filled with people stretching various muscles and sinews, some contorting themselves strangely and probably uncomfortably.

There were groups stretching in synchrony and individuals doing their own stretching exercises. I suppose that these people would be pushing their bodies pretty hard and really needed to “loosen them up”. There were others, like myself, just wandering around, having presumably decided that they would not be pushing themselves that hard and such vigorous loosening up was not necessary!

Since the race bibs were colour coded it was easy to tell which event someone was entered for. Young and old were represented and of course all ages in between. Some were probably even older than me! All frames from skinny to very much over large were represented.

As the half-marathon was about to kick off, all participants were called to the line. Well, actually, the fastest, the “elite” were called to the line, and people were asked to place themselves in order of fastest at the front, slowest at the back. To assist with this some of the organising people held notices on poles with an estimated finish time,  so that slower starters would not impede the faster, or to put it another way, the slower participants would not be trampled by the more speedy.

There was the usual “10, 9, 8,….” countdown and someone fired a maroon, and off they went, disappearing down the road. An event like this causes massive disruptions as roads are closed for obvious reasons.

English: 2007 peachtree road race crowd shot
English: 2007 peachtree road race crowd shot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Each runner or walker has attached to his or her shoe a little tag, which records the time that they cross the start and finish lines. As a consequence of this the participant can delay his or her start if the start line is too crowded. In fact, since the pack of runners and walkers extended 30 or 40 metres back from the start line, the shoe tags meant a participant could cross the start line minutes after the start and still get an accurate time for the journey.

Many people did in fact decide not to be too prompt to cross the line and there were queues for the loos right up to and after the official start. However, eventually everyone was away, though participants continued to trickle through the start for a while.

start line
start line (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A bit later they called for the 10km runners and walkers, and again, the fastest were asked to go to the front and the slower people were urged to stay at the back. Once more the maroon went off and people started passing the start line. I held back because I knew that there was always congestion at the start line, even with the shoe tags helping to spread the rush.

When I came to cross the line there was a slight slowdown, but I’d fortunately judged it quite well, and we were away. I’m always wary of starting too fast and getting tired at the end so I didn’t try to push through the throng too much, but it spread out pretty quickly.

2011 Boston Marathon finishing line pavillion ...
2011 Boston Marathon finishing line pavillion on Boylston Street. Looking west; runners would be coming from the east. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first part of the course is actually a block away from the waterfront, past Te Papa, the national museum, and only joins the waterfront after a few hundred metres. The rest of the course though follows the coast quite closely, first going out to a headland and then back into the next bay around the harbour.

Of course, with thousands of people on the road, it is closed to traffic, but people don’t seem to mind this. Most car parks were empty, both those on the side of the road and those on private properties, so locals seem to have made plans to cope with the road closures.

After a couple of kilometres I put on some pace and started passing a fair number of other walkers. Others with similar plans but fitter bodies were also passing me, I should mention!

With thousands of people thundering up the road, there were no bicycles or skateboards, but there were a few runners without race bibs who had either not heard about the event or who had decided to run along the course anyway. Along one part of the Parade there is a quite large fountain, and this was playing as we made out way past.

English: Turning for home Runners in the Leeds...
English: Turning for home Runners in the Leeds Half-Marathon 2007 turn from Hawksworth Road onto Abbey Road, the point at which they start to head back to the city centre and the finish – but there’s still 4 miles to go. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second stage of the course winds round some small bays which border much larger bay. We lost the view of the city as we looped through these bays. Quite a few of the local residents were watching from their balconies as we passed. A few had hoses out and offered cooling showers, but the day was not too hot and they had few takers.

And then we were 500m from the finish! But we had only travelled just over 5km! So we took a left and travelled around 2.5km and the same back again. This loop took us past the airport and several flights blasted off as we passed. It can be quite loud and surprising down on the road as the runway is elevated, so you can see or hear them coming until the last minute.

People running at the 2007 20 kilometer road r...
People running at the 2007 20 kilometer road race through Brussels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we went out, we were passing the half-marathoners and the faster 10km runners who were on their way back, travelling the last few kilometres to the finish. The turning point was a great relief and I knew that there was not much left to do. When I finished the out and back the course merged with the course that the 6.5km participants followed (and which we followed up to the point where we followed the loop). Many of the 6.5 participants had already reached that point.

So eventually we all, half-marathoners, 10km runners and walkers and 6.5km runners and walkers, arrived at the finish pretty much at the same time! The result was not chaos though as people were efficiently passed through the channel, given a banana and a drink, and issued into the wider park behind. Oh, and I was relieved of my shoe tag too.

Peeled, whole, and longitudinal section
Peeled, whole, and longitudinal section (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The park was crammed with participants and their “support teams” and various booths set up for participants of various teams, there was a band on stage and much going on. But for me it was simply a matter of catching the shuttle back to the station to get home, having had a great time.

The whole event was smoothly organised by Sport Wellington, sponsored by Cigna Life Insurance, and supported by Wellington City Council and Wellington busses and trains, and many others. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event.

English: Airport Express Shuttle Bus
English: Airport Express Shuttle Bus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Death of print

English: A stack of copy paper.
English: A stack of copy paper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s amazing how the world has changed in a lifetime. My lifetime. Phones, TV, the Internet, electronic funds transfers, payment by waving a plastic card.

My parents were paid by their employers in cash and they paid for everything in cash. Most people didn’t have cars and relied on public transport and paid in cash for their tickets. Today cash is endangered.

Money Cards
Money Cards (Photo credit: jacqui.brown33)

A little later, people started to acquire bank accounts, usually in conjunction with a mortgage. Their pay was paid into their bank accounts and the mortgage payments were extracted from the bank account directly. The thing was, the bank account came a lot of paperwork. There were statements and cheque books. To whip out a cheque book and offer to pay for something was a real show of status. Today cheques are almost unused, being almost completely replaced by credit cards, debit cards and charge cards. Some younger people have never seen a cheque and most shops will not accept one. Many banks will supply statements over the Internet these days.

English: 1912 US cartoon by Rollin Kirby, show...
English: 1912 US cartoon by Rollin Kirby, showing George Walbridge Perkins (with a check book symbolizing control of money) and Amos Pinchot (weilding a letter of support from Theodore Roosevelt campaing manager Senator Joseph M. Dixon) battling for control of the U.S. Progressive Party. Figure in the distance presumbably represents Roosevelt coming with his “big stick” to settle things. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people got their news through newspapers. Paper newspapers, from the rarefied air of the Times to the slightly more foetid air of the tabloids. The network of distribution of news via started from the printing presses and initially was distributed by vans, trains, and more vans. Bundles of papers were dropped off at strategic points, and newsagents picked them up, sorted them and gave them to young boys and girls to distribute, dropping them into letter boxes, countrywide.

Galveston, Texas, 1943. Newspaper delivery boy...
Galveston, Texas, 1943. Newspaper delivery boys with bicycles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A similar distribution network was used for the evening papers. These however were distributed mostly to the streets around business places and railway stations and similar places where people would pick them up on their way home from work. The main headlines would be prominently displayed as teasers to persuade people to buy them.

Checking the headlines
Checking the headlines (Photo credit: gato-gato-gato)

Newsagents existed to distribute the paper that the news was printed on. As a sideline, they would sell other things, like magazines, tobacco, and confectionery. As newsprint volumes have fallen, the old time newsagents had to specialise in something else, like the confectionery that they used to sell as a sideline, or in some cases groceries, particularly the staples such as canned foods and milk. Some might sell books or glossy magazines, but even these versions of print material are under threat.

dakar newsagent
dakar newsagent (Photo credit: noodlepie)

My letter box is still full of paper. Much of it is the ubiquitous junk mail, of course, the flyers and offers which advertisers hope will entice us into buying. It appears that the expense of creating and sending junk mail is still worthwhile, or so the advertisers believe. Some of the paper is comprised of what can loosely be called “community newspapers”. These papers, largely funded by advertising, and run on the cheap, are distributed free, and contain local news only, mainly sports and local politics.

“Letter boxes” in the UK are slots in the front door of a house, not actual boxes on poles as in many other countries.)

English: Letter Box Detail of an old front doo...
English: Letter Box Detail of an old front door which now graces a small shed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What my letter box rarely contains is an actual letter, written by someone, stamped and posted by someone, sorted and delivered to my letter box by a real postman. There are a few firms that still insist on paper invoices and local tradesmen tend to still prefer papers invoices but apart from that and a few real letters from older relatives, I receive little real mail these days. No wonder that postal services world-wide are having issues.

Typical advertising mail
Typical advertising mail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is easy to see the reason for the decline of the print industries world-wide. In a word, the Internet. When it is simple and cheap to sit at a computer and type an email, or finger tap a  message into a tablet or phone, and have a response in minutes, why would anyone manually write a letter, find an envelope, find or purchase a stamp, and find a post box to drop the letter in? Although the vast majority of letters get through safely, there are exceptions, while email is almost certainly going to be delivered and you will get a message if your email doesn’t go through.

Email email email
Email email email (Photo credit: RambergMediaImages)

Similarly in banking. Once every transaction had a paper trail. All transfers and payments were neatly written in books, all ledgers were balanced by hand and banks shifted huge numbers of notes, cheques, coins and other forms of paper money. These days I rarely carry cash, and I haven’t seen or used a cheque in years.

I do all my banking on the Internet, using my computer or phone. I pay for things, even small things like a cup of coffee (actually I drink tea), with a debit card, with a credit card as backup for emergencies. Gas stations, grocery stores, tradesmen, and every other kind of store takes the plastic.

Swipes, Bytes, and Debit Cards
Swipes, Bytes, and Debit Cards (Photo credit: SimpleIllustrations)

More and more our transactions with government departments, like car licensing or tax matters, are conducted online. Even if you have to go in to a government agency for some matter or other, they will scan your documents rather than copy them. If you fill in a paper form, they will transfer the data to their computer systems while you wait.

Picture Scanner
Picture Scanner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In all fields, except possibly the field of junk mail, paper is being used less and less. Even magazines are headed online, with smartphone apps for New Scientist magazine allowing you to read it anywhere that you may be. An added advantage of on-line magazines is that the electronic copy is, in general, cheaper than the paper version.

HTC Aria android 2.2 smart phone review
HTC Aria android 2.2 smart phone review (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have forgotten, until now, that I was going to mention books. Books are nice objects to hold, and they make a nice addition to one’s decor. I enjoy reading a book and have several shelves full. Maybe 200 books? But on my electronic devices I have maybe 10 times that number. OK, most are old classics, which are out of copyright, but a number I have bought specifically to read on-line. An on-line reader keeps your place, let’s you bookmark passages and allows you to quickly search for something that you read somewhere in your on-line collection.

books (Photo credit: brody4)

Books are not yet redundant, but they are slowly heading on-line. While it may not be soon, and while not every book will disappear on-line, printed books may become rare and expensive.

Print is dying everywhere and the amazing thing is that it has happened in a short period of time. The spread of computers first caused volumes of paper generated to increase, but the Internet and the way that it has allowed sharing of documents, plus the smaller and faster computers and hugely capacious hard drives, culminating is the ubiquitous smart phones has saved millions of trees from destruction.

Tree in Fog
Tree in Fog (Photo credit: Photomatt28)


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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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A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic f...
A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic flash at 25 images per second. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mathematical models are supposedly descriptions of a real phenomenon. The descriptive and predictive power of a model depends on how well the model represents the real phenomenon. Extreme precision is not necessary for a good models, so long as it doesn’t vary wildly or deviate from the real phenomenon. If the accuracy of the measurements or observations of the phenomenon are less than the deviation of the model from the real phenomenon, then the model suffices for the purposes.

For instance, a stone thrown upwards or a ballistic round fired from  a cannon roughly follow a parabolic trajectory and the model (in this case a simple algebraic equation) is often accurate enough. However other effects, such a the resistance of the air to the passing of the object and the curve of the earth have to be accounted for in the model if the accuracy of the measurements is such that deviations from the model caused by these effects can noticed.

FN 57 ballistics 100yd
FN 57 ballistics 100yd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m going to draw a slightly artificial distinction here between ‘mathematical effects’ and ‘physical effects’. By mathematical effects I mean effects like the curvature of the earth (and also, the distance to the centre of the earth), both of which affect the geometry of the model. By physical effects I mean things like air resistance, and the roughness of the missile, which can’t be directly deduced from the physical situation and have to be assessed by experiment. Of course in many cases others have studied the effect of things like air resistance and their results can be plugged into our model to enhance its accuracy.

English: Diagram of simple gravity pendulum, a...
English: Diagram of simple gravity pendulum, an ideal model of a pendulum. It consists of a massive bob suspended by a weightless rod from a frictionless pivot, without air friction. When given an initial impulse, it oscillates at constant amplitude, forever (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mathematical effects are ultimately based on physical ones. For instance Newton’s Law of attraction between two masses is a physical effect represented by a mathematical equation – the product of the two masses and the gravitational constant divided by the square of the distance between them gives a measure of the gravitational attraction between them. On the surface of the earth, where the vertical movement of a thrown stone is negligible compared to the distance between the centre of the earth and the stone, this means that we can ignore the variation of the trajectory due to this effect since it is so small and use the mathematical model of a parabola for the projectile’s trajectory.

It turns out that simple parabola is useful as a model only for simple cases where the velocity is low and the distances are small, and the accuracy of measurement is low. For artillery purposes a model based on a simple parabola is not accurate enough. To drop a shell on someone’s head, where you know the distance, you need to factor in not only wind resistance and the curve of the earth, but also such factors as wind direction and strength and even then a sudden gust of wind could put your aim off. The model that artillery men used is contained in a set of tables which were built up over years of experience.

Cannon Model - Part of my military models coll...
Cannon Model – Part of my military models collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is clear, I think, from the above discussion that models are pragmatic constructs. If a model doesn’t work you merely change it or replace it with one that suits your purposes better. That doesn’t mean that the old model is totally abandoned. After all, the artillery man doesn’t need his complicated tables when all he wants to do is shoot a basketball through a hoop.

Some models are purely descriptive and non-quantitative, such as the economic ‘supply and demand’ model. This is usually depicted by a graph showing one line sloping down from left to right crossing another line sloping up from left to right. The upwards sloping curve is the ‘supply’ curve and the downwards sloping curve is the downwards sloping one. The vertical axis is marked ‘Price’ or similar and the horizontal axis is marked ‘Quantity’ or similar. Rarely are there any tick marks or values on either of the axes.

Supply and demand
Supply and demand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trouble this model is that it is, to my mind, too vague and woefully incomplete to be really useful. Firstly, the lack of any quantitative units means that any usage of the model must be qualitative and prevents it from being useful in any real situation. Secondly, while the trends of the supply and demand curves may be generally in the directions usually shown, this is not generally true, especially if the demand or the price moves far from the current ‘equilibrium’ point. Thirdly price changes are usually discussed in terms of change in demand, whereas the opposite is probably more usually true, and demand is driven by price. Fourthly, the shape of the curves does not stay static and they change with time, often unpredictably. Fifthly, there are many more external influences that are likely to have a bigger effect on price than simply supply and demand. Monopolies and monopsonies have huge effect on prices, and supply and demand can have little or no effect in these situations. The validity, if any, of the model is limited to a very restricted domain of situations.

The biggest criticism of this economic is that it doesn’t lead to quantitative models. It doesn’t direct strategies and few people, I’d suspect, actually use the curves for anything, except economics lecturers.  It is not alone in the economics field, though, as there appear to be no models which are quantitative, valid in more than a small domain, and generally accepted in general use. It’s possible that there never will be.

And Again? Throw the Ball!
And Again? Throw the Ball! (Photo credit: wharman)

I’ll close off by mentioning two other usages of the word ‘model’. There are many more usages, but I’ll leave those for now.

Firstly there is the catwalk model – young ladies and some men who acts clothes horses for fashion and ‘haute couture’. I’ve no problem with that except the usual one, that the models are thin to the point of anorexia, and sometimes the clothes stray to the bizarre side of the street. These young people, should they catch the eye of the fashion industry, may make many millions of dollars. The people who pay them these dollars must feel that they get some benefit from the payment, which brings us back to economics, supply and demand!

Model (Photo credit: vpickering)

Secondly there is the constructional meaning of the word – where people construct sometimes exquisite copies of objects at a much smaller scale and of different materials to the original. Often these models are placed in context in models of the usual surrounding of the original – a model train may run on a complex layout with stations, signals, bridges and so on. Often as much care is lavished on the model’s surroundings as on the model itself. Many of these are true works of art.

"Carlton J. Dearborn, S2c [cements a stri...
“Carlton J. Dearborn, S2c [cements a stringer on the fuselage of balsam model of Stuka Dive Bomber at Camp Smalls, U.S. Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, IL. Dearborn teaches sailors to identify enemy and Allied aircraft].”, 03/13/1943 (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

Why are there always lemons?

English: Random copolymer brush
English: Random copolymer brush (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m always interested in random happenings. Of course ‘random happenings’ always have a cause. Or less linearly, the whole field of the past results in the outcome at the point in question and all other points at the moment in time under consideration and at future moments in time. Or the space-time continuum is not mutable.

Multiverse (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

Whatever. We have recently had a couple of big storms. it being the winter season, and debris has piled up on the beach. This detritus is mostly of marine origin, mostly seaweed, with a sprinkling of other marine debris, such as mollusc shells, not to mention non-organic materials like rocks and sand.

Debris. Notice the small pieces of plastic.

There is a noticeable contribution of terrestrial origin of course, like tree trunks, limbs and even foliage. A significant portion is of anthropological origin, such as worked wood and plastic, and even concrete, tarmacadam, glass and metals.

The plastic is interesting. With the exception of the occasional chunks of polystyrene foam or similar, most of the plastic debris is small, like the rings from the necks of plastic topped containers or the teats from the tops of water bottles. (Aside: Why buy water when you can get it from the tap?) Whole bottles are rare for some reason.

Debris. If you look carefully you may see a few ballpoint pens.

To get back on topic, one of the things that I’ve noticed about the debris is that some objects tend to be found together – for instance left footed shoes may be found on one beach and right footed shoes on another. There is an unconvincing (to me) theory about this.

Right foot shoe

I’ve discovered that things appear to be washed ashore in groups. This may be a statistical aberration, but, for instance, after a recent storm I came across a group of toothbrushes scattered over a relatively small area. Now, there were about a dozen, which rules out a single source, like a flat or house, and they weren’t packaged in any way so that rules out a commercial source, so what could explain it?

Another time the flotsam consisted in part of  what was probably spoon worm corpses. In two particular areas there were hundreds of the disgusting looking things.

Debris with lemon

I don’t know the reasons for these groupings, but obviously some set of circumstances must have resulted in these happenings. Of more obvious provenance are the mass strandings of jellyfish at some times of the year which are no doubt related to the breeding cycle of these animals and particular wind direction. The occasional tennis balls or golf balls that I spot are easily explained too.

But…. But there are always lemons. Whenever I walk along the beach after a storm, I can almost guarantee that I will find at least one lemon. Why? I don’t tend to find apples, though apples float too. Nor, typically any other fruits. Maybe apples are softer and easily broken up?

Regardless, there are always lemons. Why are there always lemons?

Debris with lemon