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

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

Here be Dragons

Dragon Green
Dragon Green (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dragons, big scaly fire breathing reptiles. So many of our folk tales and even many modern tales include dragons as an important component, usually as a hostile force. Of course in many tales the dragon is merely a device to give the hero some seemingly impossible difficulty to overcome.

Sometimes dragons are mere beasts, but in some tales they are intelligent, if malevolent, beasts. Smaug, in “The Hobbit” by J R R Tolkien is of the latter kind. He sits on a pile of treasure and is furious when Bilbo Baggins steals a golden cup. He later accuses Bilbo of trying to steal from him (which is true).

Smaug as he appears in the animated film.
Smaug as he appears in the animated film. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The patron saint of England is Saint George, who was an early Christian martyr. Saint George is noted for slaying a dragon to save a princess. The princess was intended as a sacrifice to the dragon who was causing sickness in the inhabitants of the local town.

In legends, once a dragon has been killed, it’s body, blood and teeth could be used for various purposes. Sometimes the blood was beneficial to humans, conferring invincibility or other virtue, or it could be poisonous. The teeth could be sowed to raise armies, sometimes of skeletons.

Most fictional and mythical dragons are scaly reptiles, but one of the odd ones out is the furry creature called the “Luck Dragon” in the film “The NeverEnding Story”. This dragon had a head resembling that of a dog, front limbs and a tapering furry body which merged into a tail.

Most fictional dragons are noble creatures, but the “Swamp Dragons” created by Terry Pratchett in his discworld series of books which are altogether baser than the “Noble Dragons“. Swamp dragons are small creatures, are almost always ill (because of their diet) and are prone to explode if very ill or excited.

English: The Nine Dragon Wall in the Beihai Pa...
English: The Nine Dragon Wall in the Beihai Park, a large imperial garden in central Beijing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On one occasion one exploded after being enraged at the sight of itself in a mirror, imaging that it was in the presence of a rival. It does appear though that the fraught gastric processes may have a reason – a swamp dragon is described as flying on its stubby wings by emitting gasses created by its digestive processes.

Some dragons can apparently be tamed. In Anne McCaffrey’s Pern of books series, a partnership has developed between the flying dragons and humans to deal with the threat of “thread” which comes from a companion planet and is inimical to all life forms on Pern.

All the Weyrs of Pern
All the Weyrs of Pern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These dragons, which similar the standard dragon type from mythology, are large enough to be ridden by humans, and breath fire to kill the thread on being fed a particular type of rock. The dragons are genetically modified from the much smaller fire lizards and communicate with their riders by telepathy.

One unique ability of these dragons is to teleport from place to place carrying their riders with them. It also becomes apparent that they can also time travel while teleporting, Unsurprisingly, Terry Pratchett created a cameo parody or homage to the Pern books and their dragons in the first book of his discworld series, “The Colour of Magic”.

The Discworld as it appears in the SkyOne adap...
The Discworld as it appears in the SkyOne adaptation of The Colour of Magic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where there are dragons, the untamed variety, The more I think about them, the more I remember cases of dragons in literature and in films. A fairly recent example is the film “How to Train Your Dragon“. The dragons are at first treated as hostile, but the aspiring dragon killer, Hiccup, finds an injured dragon, it transpires that the dragons are friendly creatures and only attack humans because the humans are attempting to exterminate them.

The modern dragon is built along the same physical plan, whatever the media they are described in. Dragons are reptiles, usually lay eggs, mostly have four legs or limbs and a pair of wings. Mostly they breathe fire, and where this is touched on, it is usually implied that the fire is generated internally by ingesting and digesting rocks.

Saint George and the Dragon at Casa Amatller
Saint George and the Dragon at Casa Amatller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, early myths about dragon describe dragons as more akin to large serpents, even to the extent of having no limbs. Indeed, in early texts, the word used for dragons also means serpent.

Interestingly, although England’s patron saint is a dragon killer, the red dragon has come to symbolise Wales. “Y Ddraig Goch” is a red dragon and can be found on the Welsh national flag. He attains ascendency over an invading white dragon who symbolises the Saxons, after a long battle and an interval when both dragons were imprisoned in a hill in Snowdonia.

English: Welsh Dragon
English: Welsh Dragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dragons are associated power. Having scales and claws, and being able to breath fire, are attributes that give them strong defensive and offensive capabilities. Their size gives them strength and they are a very great challenge to any heroes who take them on. Often they can only be defeated by trickery or luck, such as when Smaug was killed because he had a small unprotected area on his belly which allowed the hero to shoot fatally in that one spot.

Dragons are associated with magic, with wizards, witches, princes and princesses and supernatural items and events of all sorts. “Dungeons and Dragons” melds all these factors into a table top and role playing game which was popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Dungeons & Dragons game in IV Getxo Comic Con.
Dungeons & Dragons game in IV Getxo Comic Con. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, dragons as such do not appear to be a large factor in the game, which revolves more around the characters who may be clerics, fighters or magic users. Dungeons and Dragons does have monsters and while some may be dragons, there are many other types of monsters, which may or may not be controlled by other players taking part in the game.

Finally, to bring this ramble through the topics dragons to a close, I will mention one other dragon that I recall from films, and that is the one which appeared in film and book “Doctor No” by Ian Fleming.

From http://www.33rdinfantrydivision.org/archi...
From http://www.33rdinfantrydivision.org/archivesphotos/may5_flamethrower.jpg source information from 33rdinfantrydivision.org : S/Sgt Bill Seklscki fires a flame thrower at a Japanese position near Manacag, Luzon, P.I. Jan 25 1945. Photo: National Archives. Webmaster note: 33rd did not land on Luzon until Feb 1945. Date of picture could be a mistake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the book and film James Bond is sent to Crab Key to investigate Doctor No. Rumours abound about the “dragon” which roams the island, deterring anyone from visiting. In the end the fire breathing dragon turns out to be a vehicle fitted with a flamethrower. This goes to show that while fictional and mythical dragons may be common, real dragons are scarcer than hen’s teeth.

Dr. No as seen in the James Bond Jr. animated ...
Dr. No as seen in the James Bond Jr. animated series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Let’s be Rational – Realer Numbers

Symbol often used to denote the set of integers
Symbol often used to denote the set of integers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leopold Kronecker said “God made the integers, all else is the work of man”. (“Die ganzen Zahlen hat der liebe Gott gemacht, alles andere ist Menschenwerk”). However man was supposedly made by God, so the distinction is logically irrelevant.

I don’t know whether or not he was serious about the integers, but there is something about them that seems to be fundamental, while rational numbers (fractions) and real numbers (measurement numbers) seem to be derivative.

English: Note: The irrational and rational num...
English: Note: The irrational and rational numbers make the set of real numbers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That may be due to the way that we are taught maths in school. First we are taught to count, then we are taught to subtract, then we are taught to multiply. All this uses integers only, and in most of it we use only the positive integers, the natural numbers.

Then we are taught division, and so we break out of the world of integers and into the much wider world of the rational numbers. We have our attention drawn to one of the important aspects  of rational numbers, and that is our ability to express them as decimal fractional numbers, so 3/4 becomes 0.75, and 11/9 becomes 1.2222…

Parts of a micrometer caliper, labeled in Engl...
Parts of a micrometer caliper, labeled in English. Someone can replace this with a prettier version anytime. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The jump from there to the real numbers is obvious, but I don’t recall this jump being emphasised. It barely (from my memories of decades ago) was hardly mentioned. We were introduced to such numbers as the square root of 2 or pi and ever the exponential number e, but I don’t recall any particular mention that these were irrational numbers and with the rational numbers comprised the real numbers.

Why do I not remember being taught about the real numbers? Maybe it was taught but I don’t remember. Maybe it isn’t taught because most people would not get it. There are large numbers of rational accountants, but not many real mathematicians. (Pun intended).

Square root of two as the hypotenuse of a righ...
Square root of two as the hypotenuse of a right isosceles triangle of side 1. SVG redraw of original work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any case I don’t believe that it was taught as a big thing, and a big thing it is, mathematically and philosophically. It the divide between the discrete, the things which can be counted, and the continuous, things which can’t be counted but are measured.

The way the divide is usually presented is that the rational numbers (the fractions and the integers) plus the irrational numbers make up the real numbers. Another way to put it, as in the Wikipedia article on real numbers, is that “real numbers can be thought of as points on an infinitely long line called the number line or real line”.

Collatz map fractal in a neighbourhood of the ...
Collatz map fractal in a neighbourhood of the real line (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another way to think of it is to consider numbers as labels. When we count we label discrete things with the integers, which also do for the rational numbers. However, to label the points on a line, which is continuous, we need something more, hence the real numbers.

Real numbers contain the transcendental numbers, such as pi and e. These numbers are not algebraic numbers, which are solutions of algebraic equations, so are defined by exclusion from the real numbers. Within the transcendental numbers pi and e and a quite large numbers of other numbers have been shown to be transcendental by construction or argument. I sometimes wonder if there are real numbers which are transcendental, but not algebraic or constructible.

A rather sexy image of Pi from the german wiki...
A rather sexy image of Pi from the german wikipedia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sort of thing that I am talking about is mentioned in the article on definable real numbers. It seems that the answer is probably, yes, there are real numbers that  are not constructible or computable.

Of course, we could list all the constructible real numbers, mapped to the real numbers between 0 and 1. Then we could construct a number which has a different first digit to the first number, a different second digit to the second number and so on, in a similar manner to Cantor’s diagonal proof,  and we would end up with a number that is constructed from the constructible real numbers but which is different to all of them.

English: Georg Cantor
English: Georg Cantor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure that the argument holds water but there seems to be a paradox here – the number is not the same as any constructible number, but we just constructed it! This reminds of the “proof” that there are no boring numbers.

So, are numbers, real or rational, just labels that we apply to things and things that we, or mankind as Kronecker says, have invented? Are all the proofs of theorems just inventions of our minds? Well, they are that, but they are much more. They are descriptions of the world as we see it.

Apollonius' theorem
Apollonius’ theorem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether or not we invented them, numbers are very good descriptions of the things that we see. The integers describe things which are identifiably separate from other things. Of course, some things are not always obviously separate from other things, but once we have decided that they are separate things we can count them. Is that a separate peak on the mountain, or is it merely a spur, for example.

Other things can be measured. Weights, distances, times, even the intensity of earthquakes can be measured. For that we of course use rational numbers, while conceding that the measurement is an approximation to a real number.

Tape ruler
Tape ruler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A theorem represents something that we have found out about numbers. That there is no biggest prime number, for example. Or that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter is pi, and is the same for all circles.

We certainly didn’t invent these facts – no one decided that there should be no limit to the primes, or that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is pi. We discovered these facts. We also discovered the Mandlebrot Set and fractals, the billionth digit of pi, the bifurcation diagram, and many other mathematical esoteric facts.

Mandlebrot Fractal made with Paint.NET
Mandlebrot Fractal made with Paint.NET (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s like when we say that the sky is blue. To a scientist, the colour of sunlight refracted and filtered by the atmosphere, peaks at the blue wavelength. The scientist uses maths to describe and define the blueness of the sky, and the description doesn’t make the sky any the less blue.

The mathematician uses his tools to analyse the shape of the world. He tries to extract as much of the physical from his description, but when he uses pi it doesn’t make the world any the less round as a result. Mathematics is a description of the world and how it works at the most fundamental level.

English: Adobe photoshop artwork illustrating ...
English: Adobe photoshop artwork illustrating a complex number in mathematics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[I’m aware that I have posted stuff on much the same topic as last time. I will endeavour to address something different next week].

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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Seasons (again)

This is a bit of a repeat, since I almost forgot about writing this week. I decided to revisit the seasons thing.

English: Kukulkan at its finest during the Spr...
English: Kukulkan at its finest during the Spring Equinox. Chichen Itza Equinox March 2009. The famous descent of the snake at the temple. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have just begun the season of Southern Hemisphere spring. This officially starts on 1st September and runs through to 1st December. Then summer starts and runs through to 1st March, then autumn runs through until 1st June, and winter extend to 1st September and the cycle repeats.

The reason that the seasons are defined like this goes back to 1780 when an organisation called “Societas Meteorologica Palatina” defined them as above. The organisation chose those dates because the seasons pretty much aligned with those dates in terms of temperature and rainfall and so on. The coldest three months in the Northern Hemisphere tended to be December, January and February, the warmest tended to be June, July and August, and so on.

The mute Hendrick Avercamp painted almost excl...
The mute Hendrick Avercamp painted almost exclusively winter scenes of crowds seen from some distance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, the southern cycle is as described above. We have Christmas on the beach and spend July wrapped up and close to any source of heat!

Astronomers do it differently. They divide the year into four seasons, but the seasons are not aligned climatically, but are defined relative to the Earth’s position in its orbit around the Sun.

English: Illustration shows the relative posit...
English: Illustration shows the relative positions and timing of solstice, equinox and seasons in relation to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because the Earth’s axis is tilted relative to its orbit around the sun, the axis is be tilted towards the sun at one time of the year and away from it six months later. When the axis is tilted towards the sun, the sun is at its highest in the sky and more energy is received on Earth per square metre than at any other time of the year. It’s summer and warmer. When it is tilted away, the sun is at its lowest and we receive less energy than at any other time of the year. It’s winter and colder. (But read on).

On Earth, when the sun is high it is in the sky longer than when it is lower. The day is therefore longest and the night is the shortest in the yearly cycle. When the sun is midway between its highest and its lowest, the day and the night are of equal length.

English: Midnight Sun in Tromsø, seen from the...
English: Midnight Sun in Tromsø, seen from the old port. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The time when the sun is highest or lowest in the sky is called a “solstice“, either a winter solstice, or a summer solstice. The times when it is half way are called “equinoxes“, either an autumnal equinox or a vernal equinox, and the night and day are equal in length. These are the four main signposts of the seasons, as used by astronomers.

Strictly speaking, to say “Today is the summer solstice” or “Today is the autumnal equinox” are incorrect. Since the day and night lengths are changing all the time, the solstices and equinoxes are points in time, not whole days.

English: Two equinoxes are shown as the inters...
English: Two equinoxes are shown as the intersection of the ecliptic and celestial Ecuador, and the solstice’s times of the year in which the Sun reaches its maximum southern or northern position. Español: Se muestran los dos equinoccios como la intersección del ecuador celeste y la eclíptica, y los solsticios momentos del año en los que el Sol alcanza su máxima posición meridional o boreal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are four lesser known and less important signposts of the seasons, they are Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolc. I’ve used the Gaelic names, but they correspond, in order, to the Christian festivals of May Day, Lammas, Halloween, and St Brigid’s Day. These all fall more or less halfway between the four main seasonal signposts.

Astronomically the Winter Solstice, which occurs around 21st December in the Northern Hemisphere. Many sources identify the date of the solstice as the beginning of winter. Similarly the Summer Solstice is identified as the start of summer, and the equinoxes are identified as the start of their respective seasons.

English: Beltane Fire Festival is an annual pa...
English: Beltane Fire Festival is an annual participatory arts event and ritual drama, held on April 30 on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is odd, as the climatic seasons are usually considered to start three weeks earlier, with Northern Hemisphere winter climatically starting around the 1st December, and similarly for the other seasons. Starting the astronomical seasons on the 21st (or sometimes 22nd) of the month misses out 3 weeks or nearly a quarter of the season!

It’s also odd for another reason. The Northern Hemisphere winter solstice is when the sun is at its lowest point in its apparent position in the sky, so it is at its turning point in the cycle of the season and indeed the word “solstice” means “the point where the sun stands still”. It seems to me that this should be considered the mid point of the season, not the beginning of it.

English: Wheel of the Year with Fire Festivals...
English: Wheel of the Year with Fire Festivals and Quarter Festivals, Neopagan holidays: Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, Mabon, Samhain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is obviously true for the summer solstice too, and the equinoxes, being halfway between the solstices are add the mid points of the sun’s climb or descent to the solstices. They too also should be the mid points of their seasons, not the beginning points.

If the solstices and equinoxes are the middles of their seasons, where are the start end points then? Well, they would then coincide with the Gaelic or pagan festivals of Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain, and Imbolc! For example Beltane is about halfway between the Northern Hemisphere spring equinox and summer solstice on 1st May.

Original caption: Jack Frost Battles with The ...
Original caption: Jack Frost Battles with The Green Man at the Imbolc festival in 2008. Stendedge visitor center,Marsden, Huddersfield. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Beltane is a Gaelic or pagan festival and has mostly fallen out of favour, some cultures do celebrate the festival and some of the customs persist, such as the custom of dancing around a Maypole. Beltane and the other three similar festivals coincide with important agricultural events, such as sowing seeds and gathering in of harvests, so were of interest in earlier times.

However, if the astronomical seasons starts and ends were to be moved to coincide with the Gaelic festivals they would not coincide with the climatic seasons. The reason for this is that there is a seasonal shift because of the time that the seas and land take to warm up in spring and to cool down in winter. This pushes the climatic seasons back a few weeks and the start of climatic spring in the Northern Hemisphere is pushed back to about the 1st March and the same for all the other seasons.

English: Lammas growth on Quercus robur. Eglin...
English: Lammas growth on Quercus robur. Eglinton Country Park, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s why I think that the current idea of the astronomical seasons starting at the solstices and equinoxes is wrong! They should coincide with the Gaelic festivals instead, and then the astronomical and climatic seasons are related by the seasonal shift, instead of not being related properly at all.

Illumination of the earth during various seasons
Illumination of the earth during various seasons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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Britain’s exit from the European Union

BrExit
By Rlevente [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In recent days we have seen Great Britain vote to withdraw from the European Union. While it is a significant event in itself, it perhaps points to a global trend of fragmentation, with large countries or unions splitting into smaller countries. These smaller countries are often ethnically different from other component countries that made up the original country.

The European Union (EU) started in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community which gradually extended its remit to cover almost every aspect of community in Europe. The UK was not part of the original member states but partially joined in 1973. In 1975 there was a referendum on whether or not the UK should leave the EEC or (then) Common Market. The vote was to remain part of the EEC.

EEC
By Eec2016 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s fair to say that the 1975 referendum was a non event. People of course did not know what the future would bring and the aims and purposes of the EU were, I believe, not understood. I saw no particular benefit and I was proved correct by events. (I’ve just realised the pun hidden in that – in fact the vote was not ‘non’ but ‘oui’).

Would trade between member countries have suffered if the UK had not voted in 1975 to continue to be part of the EEC? It’s impossible to say. Looking through the list, there is nothing there that really strongly calls out to me, and most of the items could have been achieved regardless of whether or not the UK remained or not.

EU Referendum Results 2016
By Brythones (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

From the perspective of countries outside of the EU, the EU is a disadvantage. The EU has a big hand in all trade agreements, and countries like Australia and New Zealand can’t target their traditional markets in the UK.

One of the big advantages of the EU is supposed to be the freer travel between member countries. This sounds great on paper, but passports are mostly still needed when people travel between countries, even though visa are not needed. While there is closer cooperation between member states on matters like drug trafficking, this will be offset to some extent by the freer travel between states.

Drugs
Illegal drugs

Some people claim that the freedom of travel between member countries means that immigrants find it easier to travel between member countries and from the UK’s point of view this is all bad. An immigrant could obtain a passport in one country and immediately be able to travel to the UK for example.

It’s difficult to quantify some of the so-called advantages. For instance, being part of the EU supposedly provides greater influence in world affairs. However the leaders of countries outside the EU do not in practise seem to meet with the leaders of the EU, instead meeting with representatives of the individual countries, and to outside countries, the EU typically appears to be a barrier to trade because of the huge amount of bureaucracy that surrounds anything to do with the EU.

Meeting
Meeting

When the UK removes itself from the EU, it will be able to deal directly with non-EU countries once more. Since the UK is one of the largest economies in the world, ranking sixth in GDP, it should have no difficulty forging favourable trade links with other countries. Even trade with EU countries should not be affected too much – as someone said, Mercedes Benz will still want to sell their cars into the UK.

If the split of the UK from the EU goes ahead as it seems likely to do, this may result in other countries deciding to exit. This is not surprising of course, but this referendum may ultimately result in the dissolution of the EU back into member states.

Ballot Box
Ballot Box

This follows a trend which seems to be gathering pace. In 1991 the former Soviet Union dissolved into its constituent states. In 1993 Czechoslovakia spilt into two states. In 2014 Scotland narrowly voted against independence from the United Kingdom. Potentially the USA could split into separate countries, with the biggest state, Texas, being the most likely to secede from the union. China, is a huge country and is another candidate for potential division.

The EU is a huge bureaucracy and even the Pope has warned that the rules and regulations are onerous. While there are many euro-myths, it can’t be denied that the EU rules and regulations tend to be wordy and overbearing, and it seems that they do not replace local rules and regulations but add to them.

No Dogs in Inn
Rules and regulations

For instance, I was looking at Directive 2000/13/EC which relates to the labelling of foodstuffs. It runs to 36 pages and there are 9 amendments and one correction to the document. It is full of references and cross-reference and exceptions and special cases. One of the paragraph reads, in full, “Ingredients shall be listed in accordance with this Article and Annexes I, II, III and IIIa”.

Much of this verbiage is designed to protect the end consumer of course, and this is good, but I can’t imagine that the local butcher, or even a supermarket butcher, has read all the regulations relating to the way he labels his merchandise. Yet a provider can be in trouble if he/she doesn’t comply with these regulations as enforced and possibly modified by member governments.

Food labelling
Food labelling

So, I think that Britain has done the right thing to start its withdrawal from the EU. It will cost a lot. Billions, over a number of years, but the price will be worth it. Scotland may decamp, but there were signs that that alliance was under strain anyway.

It’s a miracle though, that they decided to leave, as many people seem to be having second thoughts, even calling for a new referendum on the subject, with more than 2.5 million people signing a petition to hold one.  I can foresee a time when the 14th referendum on the subject is held and the question will be “Come on people! Make up your minds! Do we really, really want to exit the EU, or not? Please let’s make this the last time, OK?”

Petition
By Cafe cafes Cafe cafes (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a distinct note of concern in the comments of the man in the street about the result of the referendum. One guy admits to have voted “Leave”, but says that he didn’t think his vote would matter, and that he is now very worried. I think that this is mere nerves and the burden of having made a scary decision, but I believe that they got it right. Others are happy with their decision.

Watching
Watching

Lemmings

English: Traffic Jam in Delhi Français : Un em...
English: Traffic Jam in Delhi Français : Un embouteillage à Delhi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Australia there have been traffic jams up to 28 kilometres long. In New Zealand the end of the holiday period is likely to create “traffic hell“. Meanwhile, those of us who have stayed at home, have found the roads to be eerily empty.

Why do people rush away at Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere? Of course, it is our summer, and getting away from home for a few days is always attractive, but it is evident that if thousands of people try to travel the same roads at the same time there will be congestion.


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I call those who join the exodus and arrival progressions lemmings. This is of course unfair to both the furry creatures and to the humans. Lemmings don’t really commit mass suicide, and the humans, in many cases, don’t have a lot of choice of travel time.

In the Garfield cartoon, Garfield meets a mouse who is half lemming. Garfield asks the mouse what a lemming is. The mouse replies “A gerbil with suicidal tendencies”. (This cartoon may be online, but I’ve been unable to find it. The Garfield strip for my birthday is quite funny, though.)

In our bigger cities, there will always be traffic problems, because of the sheer number of people that need access to the CBDs and who have to come, in the main from dormitory suburbs. If the roads were sufficient to carry all the traffic it is likely that there would be little room for the CBD itself.

The land of the automobile, the USA, has probably reached the best compromise between the needs of the car and the needs of those who live and work in the centres of cities. Special roads carry cars from the outskirts to the centres of the cities where special buildings have been built to house the cars during the day while the owners are working and shopping. Other special roads take traffic past the city centres and on to other cities. Other countries have copied or extended this model.

Nighttime view of Downtown Los Angeles and the...
Nighttime view of Downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Freeway, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Humans often don’t have much choice of when they travel, given that they have to work and working days around holidays are pretty much fixed. Some places even shut down on certain days to avoid having to staff offices when few people will be around.

In the Southern Hemisphere Christmas falls in summer, so the natural desire is to go away from home at this time of the year, on a holiday or, as they say in the USA, on a vacation. So it is unfair, really, to call them lemmings. They don’t have a lot of choice.

English: Bank Holiday Monday traffic approachi...
English: Bank Holiday Monday traffic approaching Horncastle This queue stretched from the town centre beyond the speed limit signs. Oh joy! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The lemmings are unfairly tagged with the appellation of suicidal maniacs. The story goes that periodically the lemmings migrate usually as the result of population pressures. Geographical features have changed over the millennia and consequently the lemmings fall over cliffs (which didn’t feature in the ancestral environment) or drown in rivers and fjords which have widened since their ancestors swam them.

Illustration of swan-necked flask experiment u...
Illustration of swan-necked flask experiment used by Louis Pasteur to test the hypothesis of spontaneous generation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These theories were used to “explain” why numbers of lemmings are found dead at some times and dead lemmings are rare at other times. The Wikipedia article on the animals has some interesting theories on issue, such as the spontaneous generation of the animals in mid air resulting in their demise on hitting the ground.

While we may laugh at these theories, we must remember that in 1530s science was nowhere nearly as sophisticated as today. In 500 years time, it may be that our scientific knowledge may look just as silly.


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I believe that people don’t have to all travel at the same time. Sure the dates are constrained and working requirements also constrain the dates that people can travel, but usually there is some leeway. People could travel a day earlier or a day later. Most employers are more than happy to accommodate such slight variations. If it is impossible for an employee to vary travel dates then a change of travel times would do the trick.

Frequently the call is for the roads to be widened or, as the euphemism has it, improved. This solution may well work in a country like the USA which has a large population which is concentrated in cities with little population in between, but is problematic in smaller countries. In New Zealand, not only are the main centres much smaller, but the population is a lot more dispersed than in the USA.

English: Traffic problems are not new.. Did bo...
English: Traffic problems are not new.. Did both sides have separate car parks? Did Proud Edward go home to think again about the terrible state of London’s traffic congestion. Outside the car/lorry park. A reenactment? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When these factors are considered, it may not make sense to continue to continue to build wider highways in smaller countries. A six lane highway that may be heavily used four times a year doesn’t make economic sense. A four lane highway that is heavily used much of the time does make sense.

English: View of Moscow's MKAD / highway ring ...
English: View of Moscow’s MKAD / highway ring Deutsch: Blick auf den Moskauer Autobahnring MKAD (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I frequently hear people call for “improvement” of roads that I regularly travel with few hold ups and issues. This is because I travel at times which are called “off peak”. People travel to work at the same times every day, and consequently you can travel easily in the opposite direction to the majority and wonder if they could not slightly change their schedules to avoid the hold ups, and indeed some people do do so.

English: Tilehurst Road This is normally chock...
English: Tilehurst Road This is normally chocker with traffic in the morning peak period. After a night of steady snow, on the Friday before Christmas, many people had decided to stay at home. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people travel in to work very early (and leave early too, of course). Some people “work from home”. This latter can be a euphemism for goofing off of course, but most people who work from home treat this option seriously and with the state that the art of technology has reached, people can usefully contribute from home.

There is an example of the pitfalls of merely “improving” roads near where I live. When I came to this city I recall sitting in traffic on a four lane (two each way) highway into the centre of the city. Subsequently a motorway was built into the city and the four lane highway is relatively lightly used. (The road I refer to is on the left of this picture).

On the right State Highway 1 (SH1) Wellington ...
On the right State Highway 1 (SH1) Wellington motorway, and in the centre the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) rail lines heading for Porirua and the Wairarapa Line rail lines heading for the Hutt Valley : from left Wairarapa up, NIMT up, NIMT down, Wairarapa down. Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously in this case the motorway was not considered at the time that the four lane highway was built, but it does demonstrate that often the most obvious solution can often be less than efficient over the longer term.

English: Road Works on the A43. The road is re...
English: Road Works on the A43. The road is reduced to one lane for a section and the temporary traffic light has turned red (seen in the distance). Traffic is beginning to emerge from the other direction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)