English: My parents.
English: My parents. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). No, not *my* parents. The artist’s parents!

Most people become parents at some time or other, and this is still true in spite of a supposed trend to childlessness in more couples. It is an ancient joke that the childless, in particular, the childless who do intend to have children at some time, don’t know how fundamentally life will change for them when they have children.

Father with child
Father with child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Childless couples, while not being selfish per se, are only responsible primarily for each other. Of course they are responsible for relationships with relatives and friends, but to such outsiders they appear as a single entity – John-and-Mary, Peter-and-Joanne, or maybe Mark-and-Andrew, or Lucy-and-Anna.

They become atomic, like the electron and proton of a hydrogen atom. We can’t press that analogy too far of course, as electrons tend to get shared around in compounds and that sort of relationship doesn’t work too well with humans.

Eadweard Muybridge's Phenakistoscope: A Couple...
Eadweard Muybridge’s Phenakistoscope: A Couple Waltzing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a child comes along, by natural methods, or by adoption, or by donor, or by less formal methods in some societies, everything changes. No longer is the prime focus of the relationship each other, but is now the third person.

Young couple with baby.
Young couple with baby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The parents quickly become the support structure for the child, and the view of the world is now that they are ‘parents’ and not a ‘couple’. In the view of the world, the child’s needs are paramount. At parent-teacher meetings the sole topic is what is good for the child. Schools send notices to parents demanding money with menaces – there’s no softer way to put it – so that the child gets the laptop, the sports gear, the musical instrument that the child absolutely needs according to the school.

English: Three Children in the courtyard of Th...
English: Three Children in the courtyard of The Druk White Lotus School Shey, Ladakh. Русский: Трое детей во дворе Драконовой школы Белого Лотоса в Шей, Ладакх, на севере Индии. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the initial shock, and it is a big shock, a world-shaking shock, most parents adapt. Babies are designed to be cute after all. Super cute, so that the mechanics of nappies and feeding, the deprivation of sleep, and well, the loss of an independent life have their compensations.

There is almost certainly something instinctual here, some urge to protect one’s offspring, or indeed any small cute creature. How else can it be explained that couples allow their whole lives to be derailed by the arrival of a child?

English: Old School, Liversedge. The former Na...
English: Old School, Liversedge. The former National School is behind the photographer, the other side of Halifax Road (and being renovated at present), so it was surprising to find an ‘Old School’ next to the Town Hall. Possibly it was a small Board School to provide for children of parents who were not in the C of E (the National Schools became Church Schools, of course). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t overemphasise the oddness of this. Leaving aside the fact that couples don’t know in advance how world-shattering the change is, couples in the main seem to embrace the change once it happens. Many women plan to go back to work after the first few months have passed, and a significant number fail to do so, even in this day and age.

Parents at the Art and Crafts Exhibition at th...
Parents at the Art and Crafts Exhibition at the Parent Teachers Meeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you talk to someone with a new baby, well after the first few tumultuous months anyway, it is usually a bit like switching on a light. Parents trumpet the amazing achievements of their children as if no other child has crawled, walked or said “Da-da” in the history of the human race. Prior to that point sleep deprivation means that any communication is difficult in the extreme.

English: Group portrait of the Maryborough Gir...
English: Group portrait of the Maryborough Girls Grammar School cricket team, 1915. The girls are in uniform, wearing shirts, striped ties and skirts. The group poses on the lawn in front of a school building and some other girls can be seen in the background. The back row stands and one of the girls is holding a cricket ball.The middle row sits in chairs and one of the girls holds a cricket bat. The front row sits on the ground and one of the girls wears cricket pads and has a bat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prior to the child’s arrival the pairs major preoccupation is strongly with each other. Of course pair bonds vary in intensity, but in couples the bond is usually strongly couple-centric. When the baby comes along, their major preoccupation is intensely with the child. In the first few months the child will be the topic of almost all conversation, except for the essentials of daily living.

A woman breastfeeding an infant.
A woman breastfeeding an infant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a few months, the child quickly starts to give back some of the attention. In fact most parents believe (as I do) that interaction between child and parents starts pretty much from birth, but the interaction between child and parents deepens as the child develops in the first few months.

original National Geographic article A BEDOUIN...
original National Geographic article A BEDOUIN MOTHER AND CHILD. The father of this little nomad may be a warlike bandit with a cloudy notion of property rights and other details of the civilized code; his mother a simple daughter of the desert with a childish curiosity and fondness for gaudy trinkets, but her babe has the divine heritage of mother love as truly as the most fortunate child of our own land. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Call it love, because that is what it is. It begins right after birth, and grows as the child learns to react to the parents, the feeding, the changing, the cuddles, the kisses. I believe that animals, at least those that bring up their young, in some ways feel for their offspring in the same way as humans. Heck, let’s just say it – animals that bring up their young must surely feel love, in a sense, for their young.

Indian Rhinoceros at San Diego Zoo's Wild Anim...
Indian Rhinoceros at San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park in Escondido, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly the higher animals do seem to feel something, as ape mothers carry around dead young, and elephants appear to grieve over their dead calves. Dolphins have been seen carrying their dead calves.

Baby bottlenose dolphin shannonry point 2006
Baby bottlenose dolphin shannonry point 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having survived the culture shock of the birth parents usually embrace the role. They pretty much dedicate their lives to their children, and if they are thoughtful people, will recognise why their own parents behaved the way that they did. Having railed at the restrictions put on them by their parents, they find themselves imposing similar restrictions on their children.

Indeed often they find themselves using the exact same phrases as their parents. It can be a great shock to realise that you are turning into your parents and that they turn out to have been right, justified and after all, reasonable. How did that happen?

Parents with child Statue, Hrobákova street, P...
Parents with child Statue, Hrobákova street, Petržalka, Bratislava (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In most cases parents quickly come to terms with their somewhat subordinate role, which is at times infuriating, frustrating and drives parents to the edge of despair. It is also immensely rewarding, fulfilling, and enjoyable. Parents feel more pride when their child achieves a milestone like learning to walk than they ever felt over any of their own achievements.

If their children shows promise at any sport or academic achievement a parent’s pride is immense. This extends to at least the second generation, as I can attest. It’s not that a parent’s life is subsumed by their role in bringing up their children, but child rearing certainly causes some of a parents activities to take a back seat for a while.

English: Kindergarten kids and parents on the ...
English: Kindergarten kids and parents on the back of a truck on Norway’s constitution day. ‪Norsk (nynorsk)‬: Barnehageungar og foreldre bak på ein lastebil 17. mai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If a parent is so inclined the child can be incorporated into the parent’s preferred recreational activity, so we see parents jogging with purpose-built strollers or pushchairs, and children being carried in backpacks. Children may play in the crèches of educational institutions while one of their parents continues their studies.

Most people go into parenthood not knowing how their lives will be wrenched into a different course by becoming parents. Most parents quickly come to terms with the enormous shift in the emphasis of their lives, and most would not go back to pre-parenthood if given the choice. Parenthood is that rewarding.

Portrait of a married couple and their child b...
Portrait of a married couple and their child by Gerrit Donck. Oil on canvas, 65 x 48 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Death of print

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dakar newsagent
dakar newsagent (Photo credit: noodlepie)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Scanner
Picture Scanner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

books (Photo credit: brody4)

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

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

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


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Blogging – how is it going?

blogging (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

When I started this blog, 60-odd posts ago, I had no idea where it was going. Of course I had some ideas on what I wanted. Philosophy, cooking and photography. As it turns out, there’s been a bit of philosophy going on, but it’s not been centre stage, as it were. There’s been a decline in the cooking posts, which I intend to remedy sooner or later, and the photography has been non-existent. That’s because most of my photography has gone into my Facebook page.

So what have I been blogging about? I looked back and, well, I’m surprised to note that my posts, were philosophical in tone, but not necessarily what I’d call “philosophically motivated”, but often triggered by events that have come to my attention either in my personal life or in the media. Some serious and some not serious. As an example this post has turned into a philosophical review of earlier posts.

P philosophy
P philosophy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what can I reflect on over 60-odd posts, apart from my apparent tendency to seek deeper meaning in the relatively trivial? Because I don’t consider my posts to be “deeply meanignful”.

Well one aspect of this one-a-week blogging thing strikes me immediately. I am a procrastinator and my previous attempts at blogging or similar have failed miserably. Currently I am up to 60-odd posts and still going. (Pats self on back). What is different this time?

English: Old gatepost Field openings used to b...
English: Old gatepost Field openings used to be closed by putting posts in the holes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, one of the factors I think is WordPress. As a confirmed technophile, I have tried many other solutions, and even tried the DIY approach. I can speak several computer languages like a native, and I can achieve passable programs in several others. I don’t care what language it is, if I want to learn it for anything, it doesn’t take me long. (Note to self: write an article about programming “in the zone” and “thinking in a programming language”!)

WordPress (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

WordPress is different in that I don’t have to program anything. I just write my thoughts in a fairly forgiving editor, add a few images and click the “Publish” button. No doubt there are other similar systems out there, but I came across WordPress and it works for me. I can bash out 1000-ish words per week and cast them into the ether, or at least the Internet, and I have achieved my self-imposed goal.

cassini science targets
cassini science targets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What happens when it gets out there depends on whether my thinking resonates with others out there on the Internet. I get emails saying that so-and-so “liked” a post, which is nice, or that so-and-so is now “following” my posts, which is nicer, but comments on my posts are rare. Insert not-smiley emoticon. I’m not sure why. Maybe I should solicit and respond to comments? Insert smiley emoticon.

Smiley Rocks
Smiley Rocks (Photo credit: w3i_yu)

Anyhow, I like WordPress and it works for me, but there are probably, almost certainly, other blogging systems that would do as well, each with their own quirks and wrinkles. I wouldn’t presume to say that WordPress is the best or that WordPress is for everyone. But it works for me.

I aim to do approximately 1000 words per post (the editor tells me I’m just over half way there – helpful). I base this on the concept that if the post is too long, it won’t get read to the end, unless it is *really* interesting. I don’t aspire to be more than 1000 words interesting! I think that’s reasonable and I hope it *is* reasonable, otherwise I’m wasting my time.

English: This is a modification of File:200902...
English: This is a modification of File:20090211 thousand words-01.jpg, which I digitally cropped, to remove the title and the copyright notice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I started this blog, I decided that I would post on Friday or Saturday each week. That has slid out to Tuesday occasionally, but I’m pleased to say that I have maintained the once a week target since I decided to attempt it. Yay! There are personal reasons why Friday and Saturday are not conducive to blog writing, and Sunday is the day that I am (effectively) targetting these days. I’m writing this on a Sunday.

Who am I blogging to? I putting these posts out there, on the Internet, and presumably I hope that someone will read them. Actually, that not as clear cut as all that. While I love the idea that some people might find my posts (ruminations? ramblings?) interesting, I don’t think that I’d be disappointed if nobody read them. If anyone does, please comment with “Hey, Cliff, I read the post.” Extra comments optional!

Duty Calls
Duty calls.

Blogging is a narcissistic occupation. The blogger puts his thoughts out there, on the Internet, because he thinks his thoughts are of some value. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. It doesn’t matter to the blogger, or at least to this blogger.  If you figure out the millions of bloggers world-wide and the number of postings that they make per day, it is unlikely that any one blogger is likely to attract a lot of attention. Unless they happen to be President of the United States or something.

I’m always grateful when someone comments on my posts though. I don’t think that the blogging medium is particularly good for having a conversation or discussion though, as I don’t spend a lot of time on it, and I don’t get a huge number of comments. I do know that some people do end up with 1000s of comments on their posts, but those blogs tend to be specialised – political blogs for example. I don’t have such a detailed target, so I’m happy with the few comments and likes that I get.

Models of Blogs: Blog as Participant in Conver...
Models of Blogs: Blog as Participant in Conversation (3 of 3) (Photo credit: robinhamman)
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America’s Cup revisited

The Emirates Team New Zealand yacht passing Dr...
The Emirates Team New Zealand yacht passing Drake’s Island, at the start of their run during the America’s Cup AC500 speed trial on 2011-09-11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started thinking about this week’s posting and had settled on writing about the role that supporters play in the context of sports when I suddenly realised that I’d written about this subject before. After pondering for a bit, I decided to write instead about the Americas Cup, which I have also written about earlier. For those who don’t know, this yacht competition, sailed in the thrilling AC72 yachts, was won 9-8 by Oracle Team USA, who made an amazing comeback from 8-1 down.

I think that it is fair to say that New Zealanders expected their team to win from 8-1 in the lead as they only needed to win one race to win the regatta and the cup. It is also fair to say that almost everyone in the country both knew about and supported Emirates Team New Zealand, to the extent that the whole country almost came to a standstill at 8am which is when the racing started, New Zealand time. I can definitely state that the traffic on the motorway as I drove to work at 8am was much lighter than usual. Many people in Auckland decided to make their way to Shed 10 on the waterfront where the matches were shown on giant TV screens.

Go @EmiratesTeamNZ. #americascup
Go @EmiratesTeamNZ. #americascup (Photo credit: KLIM ANDREEV)

When the score was 8-1 the supporters were ecstatic, expecting a quick finish to the regatta, but as the Oracle Team USA yacht continued to win, the feelings changed first to worry then to despair, however I don’t think that many if any failed to hang on until the bitter end.

Emirates Team New Zealand
Emirates Team New Zealand racing


Contrast this to the situation in the US where most people didn’t even know that there was a yacht race on!

There is no doubt that Oracle Team New Zealand appreciated the support from the supporters in New Zealand and for that matter in the US, and acknowledged the continuing support in defeat. They would have also felt that they were representing New Zealand and would have felt a huge responsibility as a result. The looks on the faces of the team members after the final race would have reflected their own personal disappointment and the disappointment for having let their supporters down.

Watching the racing
Watching the racing

Explanations for the extraordinary comeback by Oracle Team USA are naturally speculative. It is probably down to a number of factors, but was likely to stem firstly from the alterations that Oracle Team USA made to their yacht during the regatta, making it faster and more manoeuverable and secondly from better boat handling learnt during the regatta, not least of all from Emirates Team New Zealand.

Dean Barker
Dean Barker

Reactions in the US to the win are interesting. The Slate expounds at length on the fact that Larry Ellison, chief executive of Oracle has expended multi-millions of dollars on the America’s Cup, that holder of the cup can pretty much determine the rules of the regatta and that the yachts are so expensive. They touched on the fact that the Oracle Team USA yacht had only one American on board, the team being predominately from New Zealand and Australia, with the only other American starting the regatta on the boat being kicked off in favour of Ben Ainslie, who is British. It almost seems that the Slate was on the side of Emirates Team New Zealand!

Ben Ainslie
Ben Ainslie

The New York Times is more restrained, merely pointing out the huge input of cash that Larry Ellison has injected into Oracle Team USA, and commenting on the fact that yachting is a niche sport in the US but that 1 million out of 4 and a half million in New Zealand were watching the cup. (I actually think that it was much higher than a mere one million!). So, no denigration of Oracle Team USA, but no real congratulations either.

An interesting thing about all the reporting of the 2013 America’s Cup is that the American yacht has been almost universally been referred to as “Oracle” while the other yacht has generally been referred to as “Team New Zealand”, which says a lot about the general perception of who was actually racing for the America’s Cup. I believe that the Oracle Team USA yacht does not have a name beyond “17” but the Emirates Team New Zealand yacht is named “Aotearoa”, which caused American commentators some problems.

Larry Ellison on stage.
Larry Ellison on stage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The challenger of record for the next America’s Cup regatta is likely to be an Australian yacht club, which brings back memories of the other remarkable comeback in the America’s Cup history, when the Australian team came back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 and end the longest winning run in sport, but nothing is likely to top the sheer spectacle of the wonderful AC72 yachts flying on foils in the 2013 America’s Cup regatta using techniques developed and perfected by Emirates Team New Zealand and adopted with such success by Oracle Team USA.

Flying on foils
Flying on foils

There has been no criticism or vilification of Oracle Team USA by New Zealanders or the New Zealand press so far as I know, although the Oracle Team USA team boss, Russell Coutts, has come in for a little criticism, simply because Coutts is a New Zealander. There is talk, though, that Coutts may return to Team New Zealand, if Team New Zealand in fact survives. This might be an issue since Team New Zealand do not have a billionaire backer and mounting an America’s Cup campaign takes a mountain of money.

Russell Coutts
Russell Coutts

Ben Ainslie, the British tactician on board Oracle Team USA in the later races has mentioned that he would see a British challenge for the America’s Cup. It would certainly be fitting if a British challenge were to prevail and finally take home the America’s Cup. Although it officially belongs to the New York Yacht Club I believe, it was originally awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron (Based on the Isle of Wight in England) to the yacht America in the very first race for the cup.

The Yacht America
The Yacht America

The America’s Cup

There’s a competition going on in San Francisco to decide the winner of the America’s Cup. Those people who do not have an interest in yachting may not have heard of it, but it is the Superbowl of the yachting world. Currently it is being fought out between Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand. The New Zealand team currently lead 6 wins to 1. [Update: The score is now 6 – 2.]

For spectators on the shore yacht racing normally happens a long way off and with few visual clues as to what is happening and it is often next to impossible to tell who is leading and even who won the race. The yachts are visible as small white dots although the deployment of a spinnaker will swell the dots and may introduce a bit of colour, but the to-ing and fro-ing of the yachts is still difficult to decipher.

The America’s Cup is different in that technology has come to the spectators’ assistance. A view can be shown on television of the yachts as seen from a helicopter or motorboat shadowing the yachts, but it will still not be obvious who is leading, since when going upwind the yachts travel at a significant angle to their target course. At each side of the course the yachts must change direction, a procedure known as a ‘tack’. If both yachts are travelling on parallel courses it is possible for the trailing boat to appear to be leading.

So to help spectators the live view is overlaid with graphics which show each yacht’s distance from the mark (the target for this leg) or from the finish line if the leg is the last one. The graphics also show the boundaries of the course if the yachts are approaching them. The distance between the lines for the two yachts shown who is in the lead and by how much.

A graphic from an earlier America’s Cup Regatta race featuring the smaller AC45 yachts.

The graphics also show the yacht speeds though I’m not sure if that is the speed towards the mark or finish line or merely the straight line speed. Another thing that the graphics can show is any ‘bad air’ that the leading yacht is casting over the trailing yacht. The leading yacht’s sail disturbs the the air as it flows over it, and this disturbed air is less efficient at providing the trailing yacht with energy and so it tends to travel a little slower. The leading yacht is said to cover the trailing yacht and the trailing yacht will endeavour to escape the cover.

The most interesting times in a yacht race are when the vessels are rounding a mark. The graphics for this are a circle round the mark and a series of dots or blobs representing the yacht’s course, as if the yacht were dropping a bucket of dye every second. There is also a countdown clock indicating the number of seconds that one yacht is behind the other.

The two finalists
The two finalists

So there’s plenty of information about the races and it makes for fascinating viewing. (There are some people who still don’t get it and who watch it for 5 minute or so and then go and do something else, but then again, Formula 1 leaves me yawning). The course in San Francisco is very close to the shore and this does allow spectators a good view of the yachts, though I suspect that most of them will be keeping up to date via cellphones. There’s an app for it!

Race six, won by Emirates Team New Zealand
The huge number of on course spectators can be seen in the bacground

[Update: I just watched latest race. Oracle Team USA won this after a near capsize by Emirates Team New Zealand.]

The class of yacht being used in the America’s Cup in San Francisco is designated as AC72. These are huge catamarans (dual-hulled yachts) with fixed sails and full of the latest technology, computers and hydraulics. A failed battery cost Emirates Team New Zealand one race!

Oracle Team USA
Oracle Team USA (boat #2)

The yachts are spectacular in action as they rise up out of the water on hydrofoils, which reduces hull drag to nothing and allows the yachts to reach speeds of up to 50mph (44 knots). This does not come without its dangers and several of the yachts have dipped their bows into the water leading to at least two incidents where yachts have “pole-pitched” and tipped over in one case killing one of the crew. In both cases the yachts were severely damaged. Emirates Team New Zealand dropped their bows into the water in one case  but appeared in no danger of flipping over. Oracle Team USA were one of the teams whose yacht was almost destroyed  in an incident.

Oracle Team USA yacht capsizes

The yachts are filled with technology and are very technical to race, apparently, and have proved very popular in San Francisco with huge crowds turning out to watch action. Millions more are of course glued to their TV screens and cellphones. And this, below, is what it is all about.

English: The America's Cup
English: The America’s Cup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Banding together

Flag ~ Romania, Roumanie
Flag ~ Romania, also by chance the Tawa colours.

Our local rugby team has made it to the final of a competition (they won!) and naturally supporters are getting ready for the final match. They are organising coaches to take people to the match and no doubt there will be a good turn out. This got me thinking about how humans like to form bands and groups and supporter groups.

I think that banding together is at heart a self-protection thing. A human who belongs to a group gets supported by the group and reciprocally supports the group himself. In many cases the group is in competition against other groups of humans for a scarce resource such as food or territory, or in the case of sport points on the board of the elusive trophy. There is a synergy when people work together.

A rugby union scrum between the British and Ir...
A rugby union scrum between the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not always humans versus humans though. A group may be formed to overcome some physical difficulty or to provide something that an individual can’t provide or achieve by themselves. That’s why travellers form caravans to cross deserts and a group of individuals might be able to buy a bigger boat together than they could have bought alone and take turns using it. Musicians of all genres usually form groups, at least to get started.

Les Rolling Stones à l'Olympia Stadion de Müni...
Les Rolling Stones à l’Olympia Stadion de Münich, alors qu’une partie de la scène avançait dans la foule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forming a group allows individuals to specialise – in a hamlet or village one person becomes the smith, another the baker, another the mayor and another the constable, each person his or her particular skills in the role.

The role of supporters is to encourage and assist but not to actually take part in the contest or enterprise, but sometimes the line is blurred. For example the coach and trainer might not take part in a game, but in some ways they are part of the team. The supporters on the sidelines, yelling encouragement and advice, are even less part of the team, but they can certainly help out, and they form a larger group surrounding the team.

English: Greece - Russia Euro 2008
English: Greece – Russia Euro 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes, of course, two groups of supporters clash. This is generally agreed to be a bad thing, but if you take a step back and think about it, it is to be expected, but not encouraged. It is an unwritten but basic rule of sport that the conflict, physically at least, stay on the field of play. Non-physical conflict, such as chants, banners and team regalia, is permitted between opposing spectators and even encouraged. “Get behind the team” is a rousing call for supporters. No wonder the non-physical conflict fairly often becomes physical.

The biggest ‘teams’ are countries, which strike me as being somewhat artificial in this day and age. Can one supergroup really speak for people who might be thousands of miles away? There may be an aboriginal population in a country that has far more inhabitants of immigrant origins, and these people may not consider themselves to be truly part of the nation in which they reside. Some nomadic people may travel through several countries, and may not consider themselves to be a part of any of them. The sheer size of modern countries almost invites the formation of ethnically or geographically ‘seperatists’ groups.

Matthes -- Separatists at Coblenz  (LOC)
Matthes — Separatists at Coblenz (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Mankind probably started out as family groups, and were probably nomadic. When they settled down (perhaps as a result of developing agriculture) it would seem natural to settle down in larger groups, maybe two or three families to provide defence against those still travelling around. As mankind spread and became more numerous these little settlements would grow into towns, with inhabitants specialising into roles like the smith or baker mentioned above.

At some stage strong leaders became feudal lords. This appears to have been common, but was possibly not universal. Eventually the lords and barons gave their allegiance to a king or overlord and a number of small (by current standards) states were formed, sometimes based around a city as in Sparta in Greece or sometimes based in a geographical area. The debatably mythical Arthur around the 5th or 6th centuries in Britain was supposedly king of Britain, although at that time there were probably several kingdoms in what is now Britain, and Athelstan is usually considered the first true English king.

English: King
English: King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The nations of the world are these days largely static in shape and size, but they do still change now and then. Czechoslovakia split apart in 1993, and the Soviet Union (USSR) formed in 1922 and split up in 1991.

The next logical step in this process, one would have expected, would be the formation of a global entity, grouping the whole of mankind into one huge group, but this has not happened. There are a number of global entities, notably the United Nations, but they tend to concentrate on specific areas of endeavour rather than being the World Government that would have been expected. There are ‘blocs’ of similarly inclined countries but these also don’t have the spread of activities that would make them a ‘super-government’.

English: Global map of noted supranational uni...
English: Global map of noted supranational unions. Based roughly upon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be that the only thing that would cause the formation of a super-group encompassing all of humanity would be an encounter with hostile and destructive aliens, but the chances of that would be very small.

Take me to your leader. iPhone 3GS
Take me to your leader. iPhone 3GS (Photo credit: Kimb0lene)