Friday, November 21, 2014

Picture Quiz

Out and about on the streets of Cromer I have spotted a couple of these:
One of These, recently
If you are wondering what these are, I can assure you that they aren't Tardises, nor indeed any harbinger of extraterrestrial activity or alien invasion. Neither are they giant toasters, or places where our gallant posties can park their bikes or brew a reviving cuppa.

I had originally thought that they were to replace the similar but smaller green boxes on the corners of streets, which upon inspection are junction boxes for telephone wires. These are fine for regular voice calls, but not really up to spec for teh interwebz. A few years ago our internet came and went in tune with the weather, because water had gotten into a little plastic thingy in the green box.

My suspicions have to some extent been confirmed. As I was being taken for a walk with the dogs earlier today, we met a telephonic engineer in attendance at one of the new green boxes, who, while the dogs were sniffing his trouser-turnups for scraps of bourbon biscuits, said, yes, they were for broadband, being as they are well nigh stuffed to the yow-yows with hi-tech fibre optical wiring, and will be switched on some time very soon.

So, you read it here folks - fibre optic broadband is coming to Cromer. No longer will be have to make do with small pieces of damp bailer twine loosely tied together.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Little Robot That Could

I have been deluged with requests from Mrs F. B. and Mrs J. E. of Barkingside, Essex to explain why the current Rosetta mission and Philae lander are important.

For those of the hard-of-linking, Rosetta is a spacecraft designed, built and launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) with the aim of placing a lander, Philae, on the surface of a comet, 67P/Churuyumov-Gerasimenko, or 67P to its friends. After a ten-year mission, during which time the spacecraft whizzed around the planets like like a ball on a pin table in order to get to the right place at the right time, the spacecraft went into orbit around the comet and deployed the lander.

On reaching the surface, Philae bounced and came to rest in the shadow of a cliff, meaning that it would not be able to recharge its solar batteries as well as it might. However, before going into hibernation mode (it might switch on again when the comet gets closer to the Sun) it drilled into the comet's surface and sent back scientific data on the comet's chemical and mineralogical composition - which have yet to be analysed at time of writing.

But what use is this to any of us, sitting on the surface of the Earth, gazing upwards? So, as they say on the game shows, in no particular order...

* For those of a jingoistic temperament, it shows that the Americans don't have all the best space missions.

* Quite a few key components of the mission were designed, built, or both, in Britain. The space industry makes money for the UK and is worth quite a few jobs. People in Barkingside can be proud that the cameras used to take the spectacular pictures of the comet's surface were designed and supplied by a company in Essex.

* Rosetta's journey just to get to the comet was a feat in itself. In order to pick up the speed it needed to match a tiny object (two miles across) zooming through the Solar System at 40,000 miles per hour, it had to get gravity assists from close flybys of Earth (three times) and Mars (once.) The Mars flyby meant that Rosetta could snap some high-resolution images of the Red Planet. This was a particularly cheeky manoeuvre, as the speeding spacecraft had to skim just 250 km from the planet's surface.

* On the way to the comet, as a kind of bonus, Rosetta made close flybys of two asteroids, Šteins and Lutetia. The second is a large and unusual asteroid, and Rosetta's cameras were able to map around half its surface in great detail, never done before. Asteroids are interesting because they represent the pieces left over from when the planets - including the Earth - were formed, 4.6 billion years ago. Studies of their surfaces yield information on the details of this process. Asteroids might also be useful as staging posts for manned missions into space, and also provide sources of rare metals and other minerals scarce on Earth. Sending missions to asteroids gives people an insight into the technical challenges involved. And that was before it reached the comet.

* Although space missions had been sent to comets before, Rosetta became the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, and the first to deploy a lander to a comet's surface. It's noteworthy that after a ten-year journey to a target 300,000,000 miles away, Philae landed within two minutes of its target time - a feat of which train and bus operators might take note.

* And now, the punchline.

People are naturally interested in where we come from, how the Earth was formed, and when and where life began. Many scientists think that most of the water on Earth originally came from comets, so a key part of the mission will be to sample the ice from which the comet is mostly made, to see if it resembles Earth ice in chemical and physical detail.

Unlike asteroids, comets come from the outer Solar System, which is a much colder and icier place than the inner Solar System where asteroids generally hang around. The outer Solar System is also much less disturbed by the heat of the Sun and the movements of the planets, which means that the constituents of comets represent the primordial ingredients of the Solar System - including the Earth. The ice also contains many complex chemicals left over from the Solar System's formation which would have been burned away had the comet ventured too close to the Sun, too often. Some of these chemicals could yield clues about the circumstances of the formation of the Sun and planets. They could also tell us about the origins of life.

Some scientists are beginning to think that the ingredients for creating life came to Earth from comets. There are even some suggestions that life itself might have originated in space and was carried to Earth by comets. This might seem far-fetched, but if it's true, it makes it more likely that life exists elsewhere in the Universe.

Either way, the data from Rosetta will be important in enriching the argument. And what could be more important in understanding our ultimate origins?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Football Hooliganism Wears Suits And Ties

There has been much noise and brouhaha recently about the rehabilitation of a convicted rapist after he came out of prison. The rapist in question is one Ched Evans, who is a professional footballer, and on release from prison has returned to training with his club, Sheffield United.

Quite understandably there have been questions raised about whether Sheffield United should have had him back. My feeling is that Ched Evans should not be re-employed as a professional footballer, but nobody cares what I think, nor should they.

I do have a question, though, about football's governance, and had been wondering what the stance of the Football Association (FA) was on the issue. The FA governs the Beautiful Game from the top-flight professionals of the Premiership down to the humblest knockabout between schoolchildren. I was saddened but not surprised, therefore, to discover that Greg Dyke, the Chairman of the FA, was unprepared to answer questions on the issue on Newsnight, a popular late-night televisual emission, whose famously clued-up presenters aren't noted for letting their interviewees get off lightly.

Why does the FA not have a position on this? After all, it's no surprise that football has had to deal with scandals almost on a daily basis, from motoring offences to nightclub brawls to sexual assualt of various kinds, including rape. This shouldn't be a surprise given that football, in the upper leagues at least, is played by vastly overpaid, often undereducated young men, who, full of testosterone, are ruled by their overinflated gonads rather than their tiny brains.

It's also no surprise that when these young men get too old to play the game, some of them graduate into the game's management and governance, which is hardly known either for its atmosphere of sexual equality or for its financial probity. Any assertion that FIFA, football's world governing body, to which the FA is affiliated, might possibly be tainted by corruption, will raise no eyebrows.

In the end it's all about money.

I have a friend, Baldric (not his real name), for whom football is a passion. When he's not watching football, he is playing it.

He used to coach youth teams, too, but had to give that up when, as a spectator, he became involved in a touchline scuffle with another parent when watching a youth match. The other parent's accusations that Baldric had assaulted him came to court, but Baldric was swiftly acquitted.

However, he cannot return to coaching because the FA says that it has to review his court case first and reach its own decisions. In other words, Baldric would have to undergo some extra-judicial procedure - even though the court acquitted him of all wrongdoing. Quite naturally Baldric will have none of this, and youth football has therefore been denied a passionate and knowledgeable coach.

It seems to be one law for an innocent volunteer coach for a youth team, who can't get back into the game because of the FA's disciplinary rules - and another for a highly paid convicted rapist in a professional team, for whom the FA is doing its best to look the other way.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Has Anyone Noticed The Similarity … ?

…. between the shape of the socialite Kim Kardashian

and  that of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko?

If the resemblance seems unlikely, please study this close-up of Ms Kardashian

and this rotated picture of the comet (imagine it flipped.)

Are they by any chance related? I think we should be told.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Great War, Remembered #11

Sentry Duty, Poussin-en-Corbeille-avec-Frites Salient, November 1915. Another tableau by the Cromer Poultry Great War Re-Enactment Society.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Today is Remembrance Sunday, so if you have a poppy, wear it with pride, and remember all those you and your family and your friends have lost in war, on whatever side, and how pointless and wasteful warfare largely is.

Actually, I have more or less given up on wearing poppies, as my wardrobe rarely admits of a buttonhole. Instead I usually add a wristband to my collection, viz.

Remembrance Sunday should mean much more to us than Hallowe'en, whose genuine scariness has been horribly morphed into a twee dessing-up party for the under-fives.

Remembrance Sunday should certainly mean much more than Bonfire Night, which - were I a Catholic - I'd be genuinely peeved about. Burning the Guy always reminds me of Borat's faux-Kazakh festival of the 'Running of the Jew'.

I pay little attention to those of so-called 'progressive' tendencies who refuse to wear poppies. But then, as a middle-aged, middle-class, white, male, heterosexual Jew, and therefore presumably representative of everything that self-elected social-justice warriors love to hate, I shall say here and now that I am old and crusty enough to ignore the shrill demands of the joyless, the self-righteous, the patronising, the sanctimonious and the 'politically correct' about what I should do and how I should think. If you don't want to wear a poppy, fine. Just don't expect me to listen to your reasons why.

On the other hand, I do not think that people should feel compelled to wear poppies. I am always a bit cynical about what appears to be the obligate poppy-wearing of people on TV - and have sympathy for the newscaster who, choosing not to wear a poppy, received a great deal of abuse. Remembrance must be a personal thing, not one imposed from above either by one's corporate masters or society in general.

What irks me most, though, is that as festivals get splurged over larger and larger sections of the year, they lose their potency and their poignancy. People on TV start wearing poppies for what seems like weeks before the event, so by the time Remembrance Sunday arrives, one is, frankly, exhausted. The same can be said for any festival, be it Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night, Easter, Christmas, Candlemas, Hannukah, Lady Day or even The Festival of the Execration of Bakrug The Great Water Lizard.

For everything, it is said, there is a season - and seeing Christmas decorations (or Hallowe'en masks, or fireworks) in the shops in August is like strawberries in January: artificial, over-large, over-colourful, and tasteless.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Outraged, of Cromer

Here is a letter I wrote to my local newspaper. I doubt if they'll print it. Or, at least, not all of it. So for the sake of posterity I reproduce it here in extenso, and, moreover, in full.
Dear Sir or Madam

At risk of hastening the impending Zombie Apocalypse I'd like to draw your readers' attention to the amount of jaywalking in Cromer recently. 

Earlier today, and returning home after having discharged my duties as a responsible citizen by taking my excess worldly goods to the Sheringham recycling centre, and therefore feeling generally chilled if not spiritually uplifted, I was motoring in a law-abiding manner in a forwardly direction, using mirror and signals and being generally attentive to the surrounding environment, when to my astonishment I had to brake sharply no fewer than three times in Church Street - less than a hundred yards - to avoid colliding with pedestrians who had blithely walked out into the oncoming traffic with nary a glance at the road. 

The pedestrians seemed to have not a clue that the road contained any traffic at all, and remained wilfully ignorant that in addition to its many other amenities, Church Street has a highly visible pelican crossing, whose use is encouraged by anyone, irrespective of whether they are, or ever have been, a pelican.

Having thought about this a little more I can only conclude that any such jaywalker:

a) is a moron;

b) has a death wish (see 'Zombie Apocalypse' above);

c) is under the impression that they are a pheasant;

d) is a member of a little-known secret society called S. T. O. P. (the Society for Tiresome and Obstructive Pedestrians), who for a small fee can send squads of gossips to obstruct pavements; foreign exchange students to hang around in doorways; and, of course, crack squads of jaywalkers whose mission is to take their lives in their own hands by walking out in front of traffic, for some inscrutable but no doubt malign purpose.

It must stop!

I remain,

Yours etc etc.