Taking to the Air

Bristol Freighter
Bristol Freighter

This week I am going to do something different. I’m not a big fan of aeroplanes, but a few planes appear to me to stand out from the rest. These are the planes that, to my mind, represent the high points in aviation history.

The first one I would like to mention is the “Bristol Freighter“. This little workhorse was introduced in 1948 and was only produced for eight years or so, but it was so useful that it was in service for many decades after that. I recall seeing one chugging through the skies of Wellington and that must have been in the 1980s. Sadly, I don’t think that there are any still flying, though some grounded planes may still be seen in exhibitions and the like.

Bristol 170 Mk.31 Freighter, Liverpool 1961
Bristol 170 Mk.31 Freighter, Liverpool 1961 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recall seeing them flying when I was a child. We used to go to Hastings, in what is now East Sussex for holidays, and often went to Lydd Airport to spot the planes. The little Bristol Freighters used to load on cars and passengers (through the two large nose doors) and hop across the English Channel to Le Touquet in France. Then they would turn around and come back again. We could watch a plane going out and see it return while we were there.

One of the planes was called “Fourteenth of July”. On the other side of the fuselage it bore the name of “Quatorze Juillet”, which is of course, the same name only in French. All the Bristol Freighters at Lydd bore both the French and English versions of their names which is appropriate for these channel hoppers!

Short Sunderland
Short Sunderland

The Short Sunderland “flying boat” was an amphibious plane first produced in 1938 and which was produced for around 8 years. I’ve unfortunately not seen one flying, since I believe that it has been a while since any flew. It took off from the water there were a few issues that didn’t arise with conventional planes.

For instance, if the sea was too calm pilots found it difficult to take of as the “suction effect” on the hull prevented it breaking free from the water surface. It took off best in slightly choppy conditions and sometimes a boat had to be used to chop up the water surface so that it could take off.

Taking off
Sunderland flying boat taking off

Although it took off and landed on water, it had wheels which could be attached so that it could be dragged onto the land, for maintenance and cleaning. As the hull was in the water most of the time it suffered from the growth of marine life on the hull, like any other marine craft.

Concorde
Concorde

Concorde was a supersonic plane and one of only two supersonic models that have ever been produced. It featured a distinctive narrow delta shape, and to assist with takeoff and landing the nose could be lowered to improve forward vision.

It was produced by the British Aircraft Corporation in Filton, Bristol, England and Aérospatiale in France. Parts were flown between the two sites operated by the companies in a transport plane with a huge fuselage, known as the Super Guppy, and I recall seeing the Super Guppy several times flying into or out of Filton.

The last ever flight of any Concorde, 26th Nov...
The last ever flight of any Concorde, 26th November 2003. The aircraft (G-BOAF) is overflying Filton airfield at two thousand feet to take a wide circle over the Bristol area before the final landing on the Filton (Bristol) runway from which she first flew in 1979, and from which the first British Concorde flew in 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the building and testing of Concorde in Filton, some “escape tests” were done in the outer areas of the airfield. These tests were done on an actual Concorde fuselage which was occasionally set alight. Apparently all the testers escaped successfully! The area could be seen from the road, so the spectacle provided some entertainment for the locals.

The big engines for Concorde were tested by mounting them on a Vulcan Bomber. That was quite a spectacle too. The Vulcan was reaching the end of its life at that time and reputedly finished the testing with only one set of tyres left.

English: at the 2009 , being flown by Martin W...
English: at the 2009 , being flown by Martin Withers, the pilot of Vulcan XM607, the first Vulcan to bomb Port Stanley airfield in the Falkland Islands, in One (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The initial flight of Concorde was quite a show, with the two first Concordes taking off “simultaneously” from Filton and Toulouse. A bit of gamesmanship went on with the French pilot delaying his takeoff run a little, intentionally or otherwise, which meant that the pilot of the British Concorde was a little in advance of the French plane and was nearly forced to abort his takeoff.

The result was that viewers at the end of the runway at Filton, on a low hill overlooking the airport, saw the British Concorde start to travel down the runway, disappear into a dip, and finally reappear over the crest near the end of the runway.

The official handover ceremony of British Airw...
The official handover ceremony of British Airways first Concorde following it’s delivery from Filton the previous day. The location is North Bay, Technical Block B at the BA engineering base. This aircraft operated British Airways first commercial Concorde service six days later to Bahrain in the hands of Captain Norman Todd, Captain Brian Calvert and Senior Flight Engineer John Lidiard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two Concorde took off pretty much at the same time with the British version actually having plenty of spare runway, but it passed over the hill on which spectators were watching at a fairly low altitude, letting them experience the full power of the Rolls Royce Olympus engines. This was before they were modified to make them quieter! I saw the Concorde from my place of work in Bristol city centre as it circled the city before heading to Fairford for fit out.

Lockheed C130 Hercules
Lockheed C130 Hercules

The silhouette of the Lockheed Hercules is distinctive, with its high tail. This aircraft first flew in 1954 and is still in use 63 years later. It will continue in service all around the world until at least 2020. In my opinion it is likely that they will be around for some time to come.

The key reason for the Hercules’ success is its flexibility. It can carry cargo or drop bombs. It can carry troops and it can carry supplies. It can act as a tanker and spread water or chemicals over large areas. If you can’t land you can chuck stuff out of the back with parachutes of course and troops often parachute out of the back of the plane.

English: A Polish C-130 Hercules, Radom Air Sh...
English: A Polish C-130 Hercules, Radom Air Show 2009 Polski: Polski C-130 Hercules, Radom Air Show 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Hercules was able to take off from short and unprepared airstrips so was a really versatile tool for armed forces everywhere. Apparently it is a noisy aircraft to travel in, with no real creature comforts. Nevertheless its ability to fit stuff in and operate under marginal conditions means that it remains a very popular aircraft to this day.

Well, I’ve only got through four aircraft and I have some more in mind, so I may come back to this in a future posting.

Paper Plane
Paper Plane

Who’s a good boy, then?

Brygos Painter
Brygos Painter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We love our pets and they, so far as they are capable, love us back. In particular dogs reciprocate when we shower our affection on them. They are so grateful to us, and more than repay us for adopting them and looking after them, providing them with food, housing and the aforementioned affection.

Cats on the other hand, do not appear to be so grateful for us letting them into our lives, and some cats seem to have an air of disdain for anything human related. I’m told by cat lovers that they are as affectionate as dogs, but it all seems to be very much on their terms.

English: British Shorthair Deutsch: British Ku...
English: British Shorthair Deutsch: British Kurzhaar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe that’s the way it should be. But maybe it is sheer hubris to assume that we are the top mammals, and that we should be treated as such. Cats are perhaps showing us that there are other ways to be superior.

There are other pets of course, such as birds and budgerigars, fish, rabbits and small rodents such as guinea pigs and hamsters, not to mention mice and rats. Some people have even more exotic pets, such as lizards and snakes, and even spiders.

Cuban Tarantula
Cuban Tarantula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While one can’t have as close relationship with these creatures as with dogs or cats, owners claim that these animals do show affection for their owners often in subtle ways. I’m sceptical that fish, snakes and spiders do so, but I’m willing to concede that the rodents probably do show affection to some small extents.

It’s probably that people began keeping pets as a convenient food supply. In some places rodents such as guinea pigs are bred for food, and the rabbits which have become pests in some parts of the world were definitely introduced as a food source. Apparently rabbits were introduced into the UK by the Romans as a food source, and it’s hard to realise that rabbits haven’t always been in the UK these days.

Meat-type rabbits being raised as a supplement...
Meat-type rabbits being raised as a supplementary food source during the Great Depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Larger animals, such as pigs, sheep and goats and other animals that are kept for their meat sometimes end up as pets. Maybe the child of a farmer may have hand-reared the animal when something happened to the animal’s mother and become attached to it. This is often seen as a waste by the farmer, but he may indulge the child and allow the animal to live.

In most cases of such larger pet animals, the animal does not live with the owners, but merely gets special treatment from the owners. It is a sort of half and half pet animal. In rare cases the pig or other animal may actually live with the humans, but this is considered eccentric. Often media will use such cases for “human interest” stories. I often wonder if the pig on the couch is really happy with the situation or whether it would prefer to be grubbing around outside.


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Some people keep horses. While horses are usually considered pets, but are working animals, some people get very close to their horses. It more of a close companionship than a really human and pet relationship, but horses do in many cases reciprocate when the humans show affection.

Showing affection implies some sort of consciousness behind the pet’s eyes. Some people argue that while animals do respond to human affection that their response is merely a stimulus/response reaction of the pet to the environment, which of course includes the human being. While pet seems to recognise that the human is being affectionate, the pet is a philosophical zombie, and there is nothing else going on.

English: Golden Retrievers posing for a photo ...
English: Golden Retrievers posing for a photo at Affectionate Pet Care Dog Daycare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find this argument to be dubious. We after all are conscious beings, and this consciousness must have evolved in our ancestors from scratch. I don’t just mean our human ancestors, but the ancestors of us, apes, cat and dogs, pigs, and horses. In other words all mammals, and maybe even the ancestors of other types of animal. I’d like to think, for example, that Tyrannosaurus Rex had some dim idea of itself and its place in the world.

This is, of course, the view that animal rights’ activists and vegetarians and vegans have of animals as sentient beings. While I have certain sympathies for their points of view, I feel that humans have the right to eat meat as part of their diet, just as any carnivore like a lion or a tiger has the right to hunt, kill and eat other animals.

Male Lion (Panthera leo) and Cub eating a Cape...
Male Lion (Panthera leo) and Cub eating a Cape Buffalo in Northern Sabi Sand, South Africa. Italiano: Leone maschio (Panthera leo) e un cucciolo mentre mangiano un Bufalo nel Nord di Sabi Sand in Sud Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are have evolved from hunter-gatherers whose diet included meat from animals that we hunted and killed and our bodies have developed (maybe even evolved) to subsist on such a diet, and we have issues if we try to exclude meat from our diets. Vegetarian diets tend to favour beans and other plant proteins which our bodies are not adapted to digest and plants do not contain much of some nutrients which our bodies need.

Pets are probably kept more for companionship than anything else. The mutual affection between a pet and its owner probably arises from that. Some people (as in any group of humans) tend to go to an extreme, as epitomised by the familiar “cat woman”. Such people often have psychological problems and tend to be somewhat withdrawn from society, and may form an extreme connection with their cats, and have a disregard of their own well-being.


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I prefer dogs over cats, because dogs interact with humans in a more human way than cats do, and kids who grow up with dogs will have seen all the training and looking after that their pets need, and themselves learn about responsibility. A pet dog is totally dependant on a human for housing, feeding and exercise. If the dog becomes ill, they learn that the owner is responsible for seeing that the illness is treated, and when the dog dies, they learn how to cope with death and grief.

When the human race expands to the stars, if we ever do, we will almost certainly take our pets with us. The dog, the cat, the guinea pig and the budgerigar will travel to the stars with us. They may be riding on our coat tails, but that is a measure of the success of their species and their connection to the human race.


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More on Quantum things

English: Schrödinger equation of quantum mecha...
English: Schrödinger equation of quantum mechanics (1927). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schrodinger’s wave equation describes how the quantum state of a quantum system changes with time. Everett’s insight was that the observer of a quantum state was as much part of the system as the observed part of the system. Therefore they were “entangled” in the quantum sense and would be covered by a single quantum state equation.

If the observer and the observed are thus entangled, then so must be an observer who observes the quantum state of the observer and the observed. One can then extend this to the whole universe, which leads to the concept of a wave equation or function which describes the whole Universe.

English: Quantum mechanics travelling wavefunc...
English: Quantum mechanics travelling wavefunctions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That there is an equation for the universe is not really surprising and indeed, it is not surprising that it could be a quantum wave equation as the quantum world seems to form the basis of the physical, apparently classically described, world that we see.

I base this idea on the fact that everything that we sees appears to be describable in terms of a deterministic equation. It has been argued that such things as “psi phenomena“, but such claims are yet to be conclusively verified, with many putative examples having been discredited.


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Some people argue for a soul or mind as an example of a non-physical entity, but any such concept leaves a lot of questions to be asked. A non-physical entity cannot, by definition almost, be measured in any way, and there is difficulty in showing how such a non-physical entity can interact with physical ones, and therefore be noticed or detected.

By definition almost, a physical entity, such a body, is only influenced by physical things. If this were not the case we would see physical entities not following the laws of physics. For example, if it is possible to move an object by mind power or telekinesis, one would see the object disobeying fundamental scientific laws, like Newton’s First Law of Motion.

English: Isaac Newton Dansk: Sir Isaac Newton ...
English: Isaac Newton Dansk: Sir Isaac Newton Français : Newton (1642-1727) Bahasa Indonesia: Issac Newton saat berusia 46 tahun pada lukisan karya Godfrey Kneller tahun 1689 Lietuvių: Seras Izaokas Niutonas 1689-aisiais Македонски: Сер Исак Њутн на возраст од 46 години (1689) Nederlands: Newton geboren 4 januari 1643 Türkçe: Sir Isaac Newton. (ö. 20 Mart 1727) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mind is a curious example of a physical entity which is often thought of as being non-physical. After all, a mind does not have a physical location, apart from the skull of the person whose mind it is, and it can’t be weighed as such.

The mind however is a pattern, on the brain, made up of the state of trillions of neurones. It is made up of information, and is much like a computer program which is made up of the state of a few billion physical logic circuits in the guts of the computer.

Vista de la Motherboard
Vista de la Motherboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Open a computer and you won’t see “an image” anywhere. You will see patterns of bits of data in the memory, or on the hard disk, or maybe in transit, being sent to a computer screen. Similarly if you open someone’s skull you will not see an image there either. Just a bunch of neurones in particular states.

The one glaring exception to all the above, is, perhaps, consciousness. It’s hard to describe consciousness in terms of a pattern or patterns of the states of our neurones, but I believe that that is fundamentally what it is.

Schéma d'un neurone , commenté en francais
Schéma d’un neurone , commenté en francais (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people argue that we are conscious beings, (true), and that we consciously make choices (false, in my opinion). When we look closely at any choice that we make, it appears to be that choice is in fact illusory, and that our actions are determined by prior factors.

People seem to realise this, although they don’t acknowledge it. When questioned, there is always some reason that they “choose” in a particular way. Perhaps they don’t have enough cash to choose the luxury option when out shopping, or their desire outweighs their financial state. When pushed people can always think of a reason.

English: A choice of which way to go The choic...
English: A choice of which way to go The choices are a path to Greengore or Intack or the Old Clitheroe Road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To be sure, many “reasons” are actually post choice rationalisations, and choices may be based more on emotions than valid rational reasons, but whatever the emotions (such as the desire for an object), the emotions precede decision.

If, as sometimes happens, a person has to make a choice between two alternatives, that person can be almost paralysed with indecision. Even then, when a decision is finally made, it can be either a random choice, or maybe the person may say that they made a particular choice because they had decided a different way in another situation, or similar (e.g. they like the colour blue!).

English: Choose your leaders and place your trust
English: Choose your leaders and place your trust (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If there is no non-physical component to the Universe, as appears very likely, and psi phenomenon do not exist, then everything has a cause. I don’t mean this in the sense that event A causes event B which causes C, but more in the sense that the slope that a marble is on causes it to move in a particular direction.

Causality seems to be a continuum thing, rather than the discrete A causes B case. We can only get an approximation of the discrete case if we exclude all other options. There is a latin term for this : ceteris paribus – all other things being kept the same. “Ceteris paribus” would exclude the case where a wind blowing up or across the slope changes the path of the marble.

English: Picture of marbles from my collection
English: Picture of marbles from my collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For this reason I dislike the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics, as it is usually stated. The usual metaphor is a splitting movie film, which results in two distinct tracks in the future. I feel that a better picture would be a marble on a slope with a saddle.

The marble may go left, or it may go right, or it may even follow the line of the saddle. We still require “ceteris paribus” to exclude crosswinds, but there is no split as such. In a quantum model, the marble goes both left and right (and traverses the peak of the saddle with vanishing probability).

Monkey saddle
Monkey saddle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The probability that it goes left or right is determined by the wave equation for the system, and has a real physical meaning, which it doesn’t (so far as my knowledge goes) in the splitting metaphor.

I don’t know how my speculations stack up against the realities of quantum mechanics, but I like my interpretation, purely on aesthetic grounds, even if it is far from the mark!


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What comes next?

Second round of the French presidential electi...
Second round of the French presidential election of 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Democracy is the system of government favour by most enlightened countries. It’s a simple system, where all citizens can partake in making decisions about the state’s affairs. It sounds fair, doesn’t it? However, many people can’t be bothered to actually take part – often fewer than half the eligible voters actually bother to vote.

This is good in one sense and bad in another. It’s good because it shows that the government is pretty much doing what the voters want, otherwise they would be up in arms, and it is bad because it devolves the running of the country to a few motivated individuals, who naturally favour their own views on what is good for the country.

Southern Sudanese wait in line to vote at poll...
Southern Sudanese wait in line to vote at polling center in Al Gezira state in northern Sudan on January 10, 2011. Mirella McCracken/USAID. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we look at our fellow citizens, we see people like us. We see people with the same point of view as us. We see people with opposite points of view. We see a fair number of weirdos and nutters. We see people who are intelligent, we see people who can only be called dumb.

All these people have the same ability to decide who runs the country as we do. Democracy averages out the abilities and views of the voting population, and once again this is good and bad. It is good because everyone has an input in the running of the country and bad because any decision is dumbed down to the average voter who has average intelligence.

The Representative of Humanity, detail of a sc...
The Representative of Humanity, detail of a sculpture in wood by Rudolf Steiner and Edith Maryon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Democracy is nevertheless the best system that we have used so far, at least in the opinion of most of the voters in a democracy! Many other countries aspire to being democratic in the medium term.

Most countries don’t have direct democracy. The citizens can’t all go along to where the government plies its business and have a direct say in what happens. Most democracies are representative democracies, where the people in a geographic area select one of their number to go along and make the decisions on their behalf. Such selections happen on a regular basis, so that voters can review their selection for their representative and change it if necessary.

Pictured here is former Chinese Chairman Mao Z...
Pictured here is former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong announcing the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1 1949. Italiano: Immagine di Mao Tse-tung che proclama la nascita della Repubblica Popolare Cinese l’1 ottobre 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In recent years this country has moved further away from direct democracy and a new type of representative helps govern the country. This new type is selected not by the people themselves but by a political party. Voters have to vote for one party or another to affect the selection of these party representatives, and this removes from the voters the ability to directly select about half the representatives.

So, as we move further and further away from direct democracy, we have to decide if this is ultimately good or bad, and whether or not we need to replace democracy with some other system of governing our countries.

English: BANGKOK. President Putin at the final...
English: BANGKOK. President Putin at the final meeting of the heads of state and government of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries. Русский: БАНГКОК. На заключительном заседании глав государств и правительств стран – участниц организации Азиатско-Тихоокеанского экономического сотрудничества. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the past we have tried many other systems. We have tried feudalism, where one person governs a smallish area and has a great deal more rights than the peasants, but that was slowly overturned as power was drained from the rulers and, mostly, given to the peasants.

Feudalism can’t have been all bad, given the times, as it would have been a bad idea for the lord to severely mistreat his serfs, as the serfs did all the work of raising crops and cattle, and if the serfs weren’t able to work, the lord went hungry. The lord also provided protection to the serfs in his domain, should a neighbouring lord fancy what the serfs created.


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The local bigwig may not have been a lord. Religion was strong in those times and the ruler may have been a priest or bishop. The biggest bigwig of all, would be the king (or sometimes the queen). The bigwigs were ranked and only the most powerful got to advise the king – the whole system was basically a pyramid.

Even when the feudal system died out, royalty and the system of titles and rights persisted. Some rights have persisted anachronistically to this day – for instance the right to graze pigs on acorns on common land may still exist, even though the right may not be exercised.

English: Rooting piglets alongside the B3078, ...
English: Rooting piglets alongside the B3078, New Forest These are just five of many piglets that have been occupying the verges of the B3078 as it passes through Brook Wood and up to Long Cross between Ravens Nest Inclosure and Salisbury Trench Inclosure. Pigs are ‘turned out’ onto the open Forest during the pannage season, in order to eat the acorns that would otherwise poison the ponies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many countries do not have democracy, but they do have a ruler or ruling class. This ruler has almost as many rights as a king, but he or she only rules because he or she has the power base to allow him or her to do so. Usually but not always this requires at least the cooperation of the military, and the top dog may well be a member of the military.

All rulers stand the risk of being replaced. Some rulers may still officially rule, but with reduced powers and rights. Queen Elizabeth II is one such ruler, and she may be replaced with some other titular head of state at some stage, perhaps a President. Other rulers may be overturned by force, by revolution, and this is a frequent case where the ruler is heavy-handed and oppressive.

Elizabeth II wearing babushka-type headscarf a...
Elizabeth II wearing babushka-type headscarf at a meeting with Ronald Reagan, 1982. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever the political system, even in communist systems where all are supposedly equal, there is a “head of state”. Usually he/she is a powerful individual and the government he/she presides over may be democratic or not. The President of the USA is frequently called the most powerful man (or maybe, soon, woman) on Earth and the USA is nominally democratic.

Our democracies seem to be hierarchical, as do our non-democracies. While democracy seems to work, more or less, in many countries, other countries seem to get along with other systems. Some have heads of state who are called dictators as they rely on power to remain at the top.

Charlie Chaplin from the end of film The Great...
Charlie Chaplin from the end of film The Great Dictator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes a powerful country will force democracy onto such countries, but it doesn’t always work properly. This rises the question as to whether or not democracy is the best system for such countries, and perhaps it isn’t.

Democracy is the best system that we have come up with so far, but all systems eventually change or mutate and are replaced with other systems. Maybe democracy will be looked on in the future as being a quaint system that was only a step or two better than feudalism.

English: Night of August 4th, abolition of feu...
English: Night of August 4th, abolition of feudality and fiscal privileges Français : Nuit du 4 août, abolition des privilèges (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or maybe online systems will enhance democracy so that it becomes an accurate and agreeable way of running countries. I doubt it as most people will not partake in online democracies through lack of interest or motivation. A true democracy requires everyone to take part fully in governing a country.

English: Voters at the voting booths in 1945 C...
English: Voters at the voting booths in 1945 CREDIT: “Voters at the Voting Booths.” ca. 1945. NAACP Collection, The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, Library of Congress. Americans Observed the First Uniform Election Day Source: LOC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)