Friday, December 08, 2006

BSE/nvCJD in the news - Friday 8th Dec 2006

nvCJD (variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease) has raised it's ugly head again. Apparently it's been discovered that it can be passed on by blood transfusions. Doctors have no way of detecting it in blood and three people have now been identified as having got the disease from the blood of a nvCJD victim. The worrying thing is that nvCJD has up to a 50 year dormancy period. There is no easy way of detecting just how many people are infected with CJD although it has been discovered to be detectable in the tissue of the tonsils long before symptoms of it appear.

nvCJD is believed to originate from eating beef where the animal had BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathies) or 'Mad Cow Disease'. By 2006 153 deaths had been attributed to eating BSE infected beef or from medical procedures where the infectious agents were passed on.

BSE was first identified in cattle in the UK around 1986. Once it was established that the probable cause of the disease was that cattle had been fed animal protine to increase milk yields, I and my family stopped eating beef from the UK. I realised that if it could survive the temperature involved in the processing and pass from sheep to cattle then there was a good chance that it would pass to humans also.

It was several years later (1990) that the 'BSE scare' reached a peak and the UK health minister publicly ate a beefburger to calm fears. That didn't reassure me though. Next came a daft idea that 'they' would ban the sale of beef from cattle more than 30 months old and therefore ensure public safety. Now it usually takes longer than that for symptoms of BSE to appear in cattle and this idea means that it was then impossible to detect if the meat was infected or not! A much more sensible idea would have been to ban the sale of meat younger than 30 months and therefore give the disease a chance to develop to the point where it could be detected.

The 30 month rule ended in November 2005 and was replaced by the compulsory testing of slaughtered animals for BSE.

The use of animal protein in cattle food was banned in July 1988. It was expected that the appearance of new cases would gradually stop. When cows born after the 1988 ban started to develop symptoms, it became apparent that BSE could be passed from mother to calf. The UK government body which deals with BSE, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) introduced in May 2006 an 'offspring cull' where the calves of any cow determined to be infected with BSE were to be slaughtered. A great idea, but the regulation does not go far enough. It applies only to calves born in the previous two years, and, as DEFRA itself declares, on average it takes five years for BSE symptoms to appear. It has not been established if BSE can be passed on in this incubation period. A safer, (but much more expensive), policy would have been for all descendants of a BSE infected cow to be slaughtered.

So what exactly is the situation now?
The UK has by far had the greatest number of cases of BSE and it is certain that some infected animals entered the UK food chain. Since nvCJD may remain dormant for very long periods - 20 years and more, so far we may only have seen nvCJD in those people particularly susceptible to it. There may be a huge number of cases about to appear in the next few years. See the chart at the end of this post.

Cases of BSE in the UK are now much better controlled. If the steps are effective then BSE will disappear in the UK. I suspect there will still be some since it's possible that the two year offspring cull is not enough to eradicate it. I personally still won't eat British beef unless I know it's from a purebred 'non-dairy' beef herd such as Aberdeen Angus and preferably one which is 'grass fed'.

The table below, based on latest results for 2005, shows the likelihood you have of finding a BSE infected animal. All countries where a BSE case has been confirmed are shown.


CountryCurrent odds 1 in:
Portugal23,529
UK51,152
Spain64,286
Ireland97,101
Austria 110,000
Czech Republic200,000
Luxembourg205,000
Poland300,000
Slovak Republic350,000
Germany459,375
Slovenia500,000
Switzerland533,333
Japan657,143
France677,419
Italy925,000
Netherlands1,333,333
Denmark1,572,000
Belgium1,700,000
Canada13,700,000
United States98,000,000
Liechtensteinn/a
Falkland Islesn/a
Omann/a
Israeln/a
Greecen/a
Finlandn/a



What's more worrying however is the graph showing potential cases of nvCJD which could exist:. People in the UK don't seem to be aware that some countries (e.g. Belgium) will not accept blood donors who lived in the UK during the 1990s.

For more information on BSE try http://www.food.gov.uk/bse/ and http://www.bseinquiry.gov.uk/
For information on new variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease try http://www.cjdfoundation.org/ or http://www.stanford.edu/~siegelr/ajai.html

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Unsolicited telemarketing

You're in the middle of watching your favourite TV program and the phone rings - someone wanting to sell you double glazing/insulation/burglar alarm e.t.c. Know the thing?

The easy answer is to just say no and put the phone down but you've probably missed a key part of your program and sit there fuming.

Now my phone number (and that of my mobile) is registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and has been registered for some time. Telephone cold callers are breaking the regulations of the Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999 and if they make the call can be fined by the Information commissioner. I don't get nearly as many phone calls as I used to but I still get some. Those I do get are listed as 'private' in caller display so I make a point of getting their details and address before I tell them I'm making a complaint against them.

There are numerous websites which go into detail about how to 'get your own back' on the perpetrators of these nuisance calls (My personal favourite is to ask them to call me back on a premium rate number which keeps them on hold for some time without actually telling them anything). I suspect however that it's a waste of time since these callers are probably well used to this and just move on to the next number.

Here's a few suggestions you might try:
  • Ask them to hold for a while, put the phone down after muting it and leave it for about 10min. Don't give them the chance to say 'I'll call back'.
  • Tell them you are interested and make an appointment for them to visit the guy up the street who had that noisy party. Ask them to call at 2am when you 'get back from work'.
  • Tell them you are just about to get on a plane and ask them to phone you in 3 hours on 0041177 (the Japanese prerecorded weather service)
  • always make an appointment for conservatory salesmen to call and give you a quote if you live in an upper floor flat/apartment
  • Or you can simply take pity on the poor soul who has such a rotten job and just tell them you're not interested.

Now what about text messages? If you register your mobile number with the TPS (website http://www.tpsonline.org.uk) then you sold not receive advertising SMS messages either. At least that's the theory. I still get them from Bambuubar, a nightclub in Southampton. Now why I would want to travel from London to Southampton to go to a nightclub is a mystery to me! But as a point of principle I would never attend any event publicized by text messages I haven't asked for. Neither would I buy anything.

As far as Bambuubar and I are concerned:

  • If they can afford to publicize by sms then they are making too much money.
  • If they are sending free sms messages then that's the same as spamming e-mail as far as I'm concerned and I hate spam!
  • The place on their website looks too pokey for me.
  • If I get another sms I'll complain to the Information Commissioner.
  • I suggest you avoid the place since their text messages are so annoying.
  • Who the h*** is Tim Westwood from Radio 1 and MTV anyway and does he know Bambuubar seems to be breaking the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations Act of 2003 to advertise him?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Implications of the Relativity Drive

In an article published by New Scientist Magazine issue 2568 (08 September 2006) Justin Mullins explains the work of Roger Shawyer who claims to have developed an engine with no moving parts referred to as the 'Relativity Drive' or 'EM Engine'.

The drive works by bouncing microwaves inside a specially shaped container with one end wider than the other. At the narrow end the microwaves are reflected more and transfer less momentum to the end wall than at the wide end. Since they are moving at about the speed of light they move, according to Einstein's special theory of relativity, in their own frame of reference and independently of the container.

The actual article has been copied many times on Internet and has even it's own section now on Wikipedia (where the controversy about the drive is discussed more than the drive itself.)

Many debunk the drive as being the same as 'Roadrunner on a skateboard with a sail propelled by a fan on the skateboard'. Yet it should be testable even at home using some parts from an old microwave, a copper foil container and a sensitive electronic balance. (It might be advisable to do it from a distance if you don't want to cook yourself).

What's more of interest to me are the potential implications of a working device.

Assuming a superconducting container, preferably one working at room temperature, then Shawyer calculates a thrust of 30,000 Newtons per kilowatt of power input may be possible. That's enough for us to do away with the internal combustion engine and also to lift a vehicle off the ground. New Scientist shows a diagram of a wingless plane lifted by relativity drives and moved forward by a hydrogen fueled gas turbine. What, however, is to stop the turbine being replaced by yet another relativity drive and the power being obtained from a fuel cell?

Without the need for wings there would be no ceiling for such a vehicle. Space would be as accessible to the individual as the roads are today. The drives themselves should not cost a fortune - after all there are no moving parts unlike an internal combustion engine. Granted you will need to spend money on creating a sealed environment for the driver and passengers and on collision avoidance systems and navigation since there are no roadsigns in space.

Want to visit Auntie on the other side of the world? Just hop in your relativity drive vehicle climb out of the atmosphere, accelerate (maybe powered by solar energy) and coast like a satellite around the world. It may take you a couple of hours but you won't have to wait for the airline to check you in, seat you, and so on. With the availability of cheap personal transport international borders will become a nonsense so you can forget about passports, visas, immigration control, airport security and all that rubbish. Instead of going for a night out in the local town a UK resident could pop over to Vegas for a few hours.

Terrorism? No airplanes and no reason for it anyway since the world's population would be free to move, live and work wherever they want. That includes the rest of the solar system too! Now that might unsettle governments but ... who cares about govenment. I for one would like to see a little democratic anarchy.

Live near an airport? Your house value is going to rise without those noisy planes. A relativity drive vehicle (shall we say RDV from now on?) will be silent. After a while though house prices in the city will fall as cheap personal transport makes living in the country more feasable.

Privacy in your garden? Hmm - that may be a problem with silent RDVs floating overhead. But then anyone who has seen Google Earth or local.live.com will know that back garden privacy will soon be a thing of the past.

Work for a rail service/shipping firm/airport/road construction? Better start looking for a new job. Motor industry? You are going to be selling and maintaining RDVs instead.

Work in the oil industry? Well there won't be the demand for petrol (gas), diesel or aviation fuel but oil products will still be needed for heating and as raw materials. It might reduce pollution and global warming.

How about space travel? By that I mean travel between the Earth and the Moon and planets. We'll have to overcome the absence of the Van Allen belts protecting us against radiation but the good news is that the Sun is expected to go through a quiet phase for a while making interplanetary travel much simpler. If you want a good field to invest in for the future try space suit manufacture and autopilots.

I'm sure there are lots of other ways the RDV would change our lives and I invite you to add them to this blog.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Well I thought it was funny...

Years ago, to earn extra money for my morgage, I worked nights as a taxi driver in Stockton on Tees. One of the other taxi drivers told me this story:

He was driving, as usual, a little too fast and taking a passenger from Stockton to Billingham. As he approached the traffic lights in Norton near a nightclub he saw the lights start to change so started to brake. At this point he realised to his horror that a previous fare had left a bottle in the car and it had rolled forward under the brake pedal preventing him from pushing it. He was doing about 40mph, the lights were now red, there were cars moving out of the junction across his path and there were nightclub visitors crossing the road to a burger van parked outside the club. The only thing he could do was to reach down and pull the bottle out from under the brake. He did that and as he got back up frantically braked. When he finally could see again he found his taxi stopped six inches from the rear of the burger van. He had gone through the lights at red and missed every car and pedestrian.
"Take me back home." said his passenger.
"What for? you've only just left there."
"I need to change my trousers!"

Richard wasn't a very bright student. When he did his technology exam he got everything on the paper wrong apart from one question. He even got everything on the front page wrong.
Surname - he had written the technology teacher's name. "Well you're Sur aren't you?"
Forename - Dickie
Centre Name (the school name) - Alun
The question he got right? he had answered 'Rat shit'
The actual question was 'Name a type of screwdriver.'

I was supervising an English exam at school. I and the other supervisors were run ragged by pupils asking us for pencils - which the English department had not provided. Eventually we ran out and I asked "What do you need a pencil for anyway?".
It was question 5b which said - 'Draw your conclusions...'

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thrush Hall Farm before it was Throstle Hole Abbey

Until I was eight I lived with my family in Walkergate, Newcastle on Tyne. Then my father followed his brother's footsteps and bought a small farm in the wilds of Northumberland.

My father was very much the 'Mr. Jones' in our street in Newcastle. We had the first car, the first TV, a modern kitchen - we were comfortable. Everyone else tried to keep up with us. Thrush Hall Farm was a bit of a change.

For a start - we had no electricity. It was oil lamps and candles upstairs and Calor gas lights and Tilley lamps downstairs. Our TV sat useless in a corner of 'the sitting room' along with our mains radio and gramophone.

There was no bathroom. We did have a bath - it was underneath a counter top in the scullery. We did have the luxury of running hot and cold water. It was heated by a coal fire in the kitchen. Not for us the luxury of chlorinated mains water. Our water supply ran down the field in a ditch. We had a large settling and storage tank just up the hill from the farm buildings. In wet weather it didn't have time to settle and I remember on occasion a large worm would make it's way into the bath. In dry weather the ditch dried up and we had to use a spring in our fields. That spring never dried up, no matter how dry the summer. Not only did it keep us going but it also served for serveral of our neighbours. Unlike the tap water, which had to be boiled, the spring water was pure and delicious.

Toilet? It was outside. Not for us one that flushed. We had an earth closet in a whitewashed outbuilding. I remember a wooden board with a hole you uncovered. At the side of the building was a stone slab which was removed to rake out the contents. I also remember a healthy population of spiders. One day I moved that slab while my sister was sat there and waved a bunch of nettles inside. My sister shot out of that place in hot pursuit of me. Normally I could outrun her but I was laughing so hard she caught me and pulled out handfuls of my hair.

Cooking was done on a Calor gas hob in the scullery or on the coal fire in big cast iron pots. Baking was done in an oven next to the coal fire. I remember that oven served a lot of purposes, from baking to thawing out semi frozen lambs during frosty springs.

The floors in our farm downstairs were made of stone flags. Slabs of stone about two feet by three. The walls of our farmhouse were over two feet thick. They kept us warm in winter and cool in summer. There were small windows facing south with a window ledge that served as a seat at times. There were no windows facing north west or east other than a tiny one in the scullery and an even smaller one filled with perforated zinc mesh in our walk in 'pantry'. The roof was a bit of a mixture. On one side it was stone slabs pegged onto oak beams with sheepbone pegs, on the other side it was slates. The house was built on a slope so was low enough to easily get onto the roof on the slate side. Between the house and the byre there was a cobbled farmyard.

Fridge? We didn't have one. We kept food cool in the pantry and bought fresh food from the many traveling shops which visited.

There were only two bedrooms so Mam & Dad had one and my sister and I shared the other. If you needed to 'go' there was a chamber pot under the bed.

Winters were something else! We were 1700 Ft up in the Pennine hills in a valley surrounded by open fells. When the wind blew all the snow made it's way into the valley and we were 'snowed in'. We had been warned about this and my mother took care to lay in a stock of tinned and dried food. Once the snow started the traveling shops didn't make it to our farm and we had to rely on our stores. That first year I remember helping my parents to dig snow, and dig, and dig and... The temperature plummeted. We had a thermometer outside and I remember eleven degrees of frost. At night we snuggled under two quilts and lots of blankets. (No central heating.) In the morning it was not unusual to find half an inch of ice on the windows. I learnt to keep my clothes for the next day under the top quilt and to get dressed before I got out of bed.

Our normal footwear was the Wellington boot with thick socks. In winter we learnt to wear two pairs of jeans with the outer pair outside the wellingtons to stop the snow getting inside them.

In winter we had to feed our cattle (kept in the byre) and sheep (outdoors). Feeding the cows was a twice a day job and mucking out I found difficult. My problem was that I wasn't strong enough to wheel the wheelbarrow without the risk of it turning over. When it did it was fill it again. One of our cows we milked, a mild mannered shorthorn cow called Daisy. Mostly my mother did this but both my sister and I learnt it too. The trick is to keep your head close to the side of the cow )so she can't whip you in the eyes with her tail)and avoid her stepping or kicking over the pail (by keeping her occupied with some food). We could only milk her part of the year - for the rest we bought milk from Sarah Clark our neighbour.

Another job my father gave me was to bury dead sheep. Our first sheep were old and several died of age. Try burying a sheep in winter when the already stony ground is frozen hard. You do it with a pick, a spade and a shovel.

In spring there was lambing. I learnt to catch the new born lambs with a shepherd's crook and inject it against disease. Lambs are nice, cute and playful. Adult sheep are smelly and frustratingly stupid however. They would jump the stone walls of our farm to get to the much poorer grazing in our neighbours property. As they did so they often caused the ancient dry stone walls to collapse and these needed rebuilding. They say dry stone walling is an art but I learnt it at an early age. I must have been ok at it because my repairs didn't fall down again.

Summer was a different matter. It meant haymaking and we did it the hard way by hand since we did not have a tractor. We got someone to cut the hay and we then used huge wooden rakes to turn the swathes over after drying a few days. If it rained - we did it again. We then raked three rows into one and again let it dry. Next we raked it into small mounds - Kyles. These were then put together into much bigger mounds - Pikes. After the pikes had dried a while they were taken by tractor to the hay barn where it was forked through the narrow door. It was all hard work and my sister and I being only ten and eight years old didn't get me out of it.

Around 1960 electricity finally made it to our valley and at last we could watch tv again. By this time however our TV was too old to pick up the ITV channels that were now being broadcast. We didn't miss it much. We were too busy on the farm. About the same time we did some building work on the farm and at last installed a bathroom with flush toilet and a third bedroom. The scullery was extended in a DIY conversion and joined with the walk in pantry. My father did the work, taking down the wall and installing a thick oak beam to support the bit left. The following morning we came downstairs to find that oak beam bent nearly in a U shape. There turned out to be another 10 feet of two feet thick stone wall above it. It all had to come down. Fortunately this bit wasn't load bearing at the top. To replace the walk in pantry we knocked through to the stable next door and I helped a friend who often helped out on our farm, Dick Phillipson, build a new wall. I remember him sitting astride a beam while I passed him buckets of rubble to fill the gap between the two layers of wall he had built. Suddenly there was a loud rumble, a muttered curse and Dick got very carefully down from his perch. One half of the wall which supported the beam he was sitting on had collapsed and had to be rebuilt.

We also dug out the back of the house and made a new entrance from the yard into the scullery. It used to get filled with snow in winter so eventually we roofed this area over.

Dick usually cut our hay and brought the pikes' in for us. He lived at Nenthead and came over from there on his tractor. He was already old when I first met him but he didn't seem old to me. He was very strong in a wiry way and was one of the few people I knew who had been a lead miner before the mines in the area closed down. His tractor made all the difference to us. My mother was persuaded to drive it. One day I remember her trying to change gear as she brought in a pike. She missed the gear and the tractor started to roll backwards down the hill. She wasn't heavy enough to get enough pressure on the brake and would have ended up back down the hill had one of the prongs of the pike lifter not struck one of the large Scots pine trees which separated two of our hay fields. A few years ago I visited our old farm again, (it's now Throstle Hole Abbey, a Buddhist monastery) and the mark can still be seen in the tree after 40 years.

With the arrival of electricity we bought a deep freeze. I remember seeing it empty apart from the first item we put in it - a packet of fishcakes. One day when Dick arrived my mother took them out to have for lunch. She wasn't quite used to deep freezes though because when she served them they burnt your mouth on the outside and had a chunk of frozen fish in the inside. We still tease her about hot frozen fishcakes. The freezer didn't stay empty long. We had whole pigs, vegetables and fruit in it.

Electricity meant also that my father could start installing central heating. He bought a coal fired boiler, a pump, pipes and radiators and started connecting things up. When he got sick of the job of bashing holes through two foot thick stone walls I took over. I knew nothing about central heating and simply connected everything in series. When we switched it on the radiator in my room was red hot and the one last in line, downstairs in the sitting room, was barely warm. It worked though and made the house warmer. I then read books on central heating and found out what I should have done. Years later I met a guy in a pub in Allendale who talked about what a botch job the central heating was there. I kept quiet.

My mother did most of the work on the farm since my father worked full time as an electrical engineer. She raised cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and at one time goats. She gardened, repaired walls, dipped sheep, milked, lambda, calfed, built animal shelters and cleaned them. In addition she delivered children to the primary school and did a post round. After my parents divorced she sold the farm in 1969 to some Londoners who turned it into a hippy commune. Later it became Throstle Hole Abbey a Soto Zen Buddhist abbey; the name coming from the old name for Thrush Hall.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Distorted Carrots?

OK - so I move to a new house with a massive 150ft garden. Now I don't know a lot about gardening, but I decided it would be worth a try growing vegetables. I got a good crop of potatoes, especially since they were grown from peelings. Peas and beans were great. My sweetcorn, squash, celery, courgettes (zucchini) are delicious. The tomatoes - well, I'm getting sick of them! The cabbage and broccoli are fine now that I've persuaded the caterpillars to go elsewhere.

My carrots though are pathetic. They grow, but I've never seen such distorted efforts.
Now there must be some knowlegeable gardeners out there. What am I doing wrong?
Does Miracle Grow contain testosterone?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

TV Adverts (or should that be Advertzzzzzzzz...)

While on holiday I've been watching a bit more TV than usual. As a result I've been exposed to a fair few TV adverts. Now having lived for a while in both the US and Canada I know that we in the UK get a better deal than elsewhere, we don't for instance, get adverts immediately after opening titles or just before the closing credits. But still - some of those adverts are soooo boooring! Others are intensely annoying, and yet more are unbelievably stupid.

So here's my list of adverts that I really hate and those I actually enjoy.



Hate:
The stupid advert which features a football maniac phoning up for a loan whilst his grinning idiot wife videos everything with her video camera instead of snatching his football and throwing it out the window. It's so annoying I mute the sound every time it comes on. Now I know some adverts are designed to be annoying so we remember the name of the company/product but if that's the case here ... Who?



The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) advert featuring children suffering. Isn't this a case of cruelty to children? Maybe some of them are brilliant child actors but that tot in the baby bouncer? Sorry NSPCC I'm NOT going to donate because no amount of money will stop some parents from being cruel and I'm certainly not going to help you pay for more of these adverts!



Like:
The Renault Megan adverts - funny, sexy and almost enough to make me interested in buying a very ugly car!



Boring:

The Elephant insurance adverts - I have enough trouble staying awake in front of TV without them to send me to sleep!



Amusing - but not in the way they plan:

Years ago I was a member of the AA (Automobile Association). I quit and joined the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) after waiting for nearly 3 hours for a patrol to arrive when my car broke down. After watching the AA advert on TV I finally can figure out why it took so long - all their patrol men are off in Scotland making adverts!

Their latest advert says 95% of their members would recommend them. Now maybe they haven't noticed but that means 5% of their members are unhappy and won't be a member after their subscription runs out. Hey AA - you are losing 5% of your members every year!



Talking of unintentionally amusing adverts - remember these from the past?



  • 'Nothing acts faster than Anadin' - so take nothing and your headache will get better quicker.

  • 'Persil washes whiter' - Than mud?


So what adverts does everyone else like/dislike?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sweet Choice

In a letter to New Scientist (issue 24 June 2006) Richard Laming of the British Soft Drinks Association states:

'Intense sweeteners allow consumers to enjoy soft drinks while restricting their calorie intake if they wish to do so. They are always listed on the label so that consumers can have the choice'

How does this stand up to reality? In a visit to my local Tesco supermarket I was unable to find a single 2 litre bottle of lemonade which did NOT contain Aspartame. In each case the bottle was passed to me to read because my wife was unable to read the tiny print on the list of ingredients. (The one brand of lemonade which I know does not contain Aspartame, 7-up, was out of stock). Some choice!

Now I'm not saying Aspartame is bad - I just remain confused as to whether it is or is not safe so in the meantime I choose not to eat or drink the stuff.

Footnote Sept 28 2007
I'm pleased to find that Asda, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury have now stopped adding Aspartame to their own brand drinks. That means you can once again buy low cost lemonade without the stuff. Now maybe we can persuade Tesco to do the same?

Footnote April 2009
It seems that pandas are unique amongst animals in that they prefer the taste of Aspartame. In an experiment they, along with other animals were given a choice of water flavoured with six different natural sweeteners or six different artificial sweeteners. Only the pandas chose Aspartame - all the other animals (apart from cats, who can't taste sweetness) chose natural sweeteners. Hey - maybe that's why pandas are an endangered species? BBC news feature

Answer to Brain Teaser
Jane really said "I'm 2A today. Last year I was 29 (in hexadecimal numbers) and in two years time I'll be 2C"
If she's 2A in hexadecimal then that makes her 42 in the 'normal' decimal system.

Friday, July 21, 2006

ALL CAPS USER AGREEMENTS - Grr!

I've just upgraded my copy of SpySweeper to version 5. Great improvement but...

Why Why Why do software firms continue to write their 'terms and conditions' in ALL CAPS?

As a teacher one of the first things we were taught in college was not to write in capital letters only. The reason? It destroys the word shape and actually makes the text harder to read. When we read we look for word shapes and recognize the word without reading individual letters. Write the document in capitals and we have to recognize words by looking at individual letters. If we find a document written in capitals only we tend to give up and not bother reading it.

SpySweeper's terms and conditions is a typical example (although they do switch to mixed case after a paragraph or so). Who writes this drivel? Do they want us not to read it? I suspect it's probably a lawyer - a group of people who seem determined to make things as difficult as possible for the rest of us. Now Webroot - Explain this to your lawyers in nice simple language so that they can get it right next time - NOBODY WANTS TO READ ANY LONG DOCUMENT IF IT'S WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS ONLY AND PEOPLE WHO WRITE TITLES IN ALL CAPS RATHER THAN USING LARGER FONTS OR BOLD TEXT ARE JUST DISPLAYING TOTAL IGNORANCE OF GOOD DESIGN. THINGS HAVE MOVED ON SINCE THE DAYS OF TYPEWRITERS AND TO STICK WITH ALL CAPS ( OR EVEN WORSE UNDERLINED ALL CAPS) IS ABOUT THE SAME AS EMPLOYING A CLERK TO PAINSTAKINGLY COPY A DOCUMENT OUT BY HAND!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sugar and spice? - Err - Not quite

Acording to the nursary rhyme little girls are made of 'sugar and spice and all things nice' whereas little boys are made of 'slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails'. (Must have been a woman who wrote that one.) No matter how much little girls wish it the rhyme just isn't true.

So what exactly are we made of? Let's take a look at Mr Average: 38 years old, 5' 9" and weighing 79.83 Kg (179 lb)

61% of Mr Average is oxygen. It weighs 49 Kg (107lb) and as a gas it would occupy a volume of 34,000 litres (1,200 cubic feet) That's enough to keep an average person breathing for 68 days. Most of the oxygen is found in the water which makes up 55% of the bodies mass.

23% of Mr Average is carbon. It weighs 18.24 Kg (40lb). Thats about 6 bags if you want to have a BBQ.

10% of Mr Average is hydrogen. It weighs 7.98 Kg (17.6lb) and as a gas would take up 89,400 litres (3,160 cubic feet). In a balloon it would be capable of lifting 220 lb.

2.6% of Mr Average is nitrogen, mostly in the proteins of his body. It weighs 2.08 Kg (4.6lb) and would make enough fertilizer to cover 1/5th of an acre

1.4% of Mr Average is calcium. That's 1.12Kg (2.5lb). It's found in bones and teeth, is important for membrane function, nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and blood clotting. Converted to plaster it would be enough to cover 3 square feet of wall.

1.1% of Mr Average is phosphorus, 878g (1.931b). It's found in bones and teeth, nucleic acids and is important in providing you with energy. It's enough to make about 500 boxes of matches.

0.2% of Mr Average is potassium, 160g (5.6oz). It's important for proper membrane function, nerve impulses, and muscle contractions. Since potassium perchlorate is also used in making matches there's enough in Mr Average to make 160 boxes.

0.2% of Mr Average is Sulphur, 160g (5.6oz). Its found in fats, bones and proteins. there's enough sulphur in Mr Average to make the sulphuric acid for 50 car batteries.

0.14% of Mr Average is sodium, 112g (4oz). It's mostly in body fluids. Thats enough to make salt to put on about 1000 bags of fries.

0.12% of Mr Average is chlorine, 96g. (3.4oz) It's important for membrane function and water absorption. The chloride ion is the major anion in body fluids and it's essential in digesting food. There's enough to make several bottles of bleach or as pure chlorine gas it would occupy a volume of 30 litres - enough to kill Mr Average several times.

0.027% of Mr Average is magnesium, 21.6g: It's needed in enzymes, for bone formation and in using energy. Converted into antacid tablets you'd get 120.

0.006% of Mr Average is iron, almost 5g (0.1oz) It's needed in the blood to transport oxygen. There's enough in Mr Average to make a 2½ inch nail.

0.0037% of Mr Average is fluorine, 3g. Thats enough to make 660 tubes of fluoride toothpaste and again more than enough to kill Mr Average if taken all in one go.

0.0033% of Mr Average is zinc, 2.6g. It's found in enzymes. There's enough zinc in Mr Average to galvanize 74 square centimetres of steel on both sides.

0.0014% of Mr Average is silicon, 1.1g. It appears to help bones absorb calcium. That amount of silicon is found in ½ teaspoon of sand.

Rubidium and Strontium together make up about 1g of Mr Average. Rubidium seems to help the body select between sodium and potassium ions and strontium helps in the formation of bones. There's not enough of either to colour a firework.

There's about .3g of bromine (about 1 drop) in Mr Average. No-one is quite sure what it's function is.

There's about 0.1g of lead in Mr Average. In the past this was thought to be of no use and only harmful. Today a trace amount is believed to be necessary. That amount is enough to make one piece of birdshot.

Mr Average contains 0.08g of copper. Its used to make hemoglobin (in blood) and melanin (what colours your hair and suntan). That amount of copper could fit in a cube 2mm (1/13th inch) square.

There's enough aluminium in Mr Average, 0.07g, to make a piece of thick kitchen foil 7cm (2¾ inches) square. A tiny amount is needed in our bodies as a catalyst.

There's 0.06g of cadmium in Mr Average. It's found in some enzymes. Too much will kill painfully. It would take 75 Mr Averages to make just 1 AA size rechargable battery. (OK this was written in the days of NiCad rechargable batteries)

The remaining elements in Mr Average are in vanishingly small quantities. So here they are in a table.

Element%Weight (g) Comment
cerium0.000057%0.046,
barium0.000031%0.025,
iodine0.000029%0.023Enough to make 3500 cuts sting!
tin0.000029%0.023Enough to tin plate a tomato puree can
titanium0.000029%0.023,
boron0.000026%0.021,
nickel0.000021%0.017You would need about 75 Mr Averages to make a US nickel
selenium0.000021%0.017,
chromium0.00002%0.016,
manganese0.000017%0.014,
arsenic0.00001%0.008,
lithium0.00001%0.008,
cesium0.0000086%0.0068,
mercury0.0000086%0.0068About as big an amount as the head of a pin
germanium0.0000071%0.0057,
molybdenum0.0000071%0.0057Enough to make a small light bulb (or at least the
wires that hold the filament in place)
cobalt0.0000043%0.0034,
antimony0.0000029%0.0023,
silver0.0000029%0.0023,
niobium0.0000021%0.0017,
zirconium0.0000014%0.0011,
lanthanium0.0000011%0.00091,
gallium0.000001%0.0008,
tellurium0.000001%0.0008,
yttrium0.00000086%0.00068,
bismuth0.00000071%0.00057,
thallium0.00000071%0.00057,
indium0.00000057%0.00046,
gold0.00000029%0.00023Enough to make one tiny gold chain link worth 0.6¢
scandium0.00000029%0.00023,
tantalum0.00000029%0.00023,
vanadium0.00000016%0.00013,
thorium0.00000014%0.00011,
uranium0.00000014%0.00011,
samarium0.00000007%0.000057,
beryllium0.00000005%0.000041,
tungsten0.00000003%0.000023,

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Last Supper

Wow! In the month since I wrote a web page about Leonardo Da Vinci's painting 'The last supper' it's had almost a million visitors! So here it is reproduced here and you can, if you wish, leave comments.


The Last Supper
- A Study of the Painting by Leonardo Da Vinci




The Last Supper is a painting painted between 1496 to 1498 by Leonardo Da Vinci in the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie
. The painting was made using experimental pigments directly on the dry plaster wall and unlike frescos, where the pigments are mixed with the wet plaster, it has not stood the test of time well. Even before it was finished there were problems with the paint flaking from the wall and Leonardo had to repair it. Over the years it has crumbled, been vandalized bombed and restored. Today we are probably looking at very little of the original.
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
There are a number of points of interest:

Was it a 'Passover'?

Definitely not! The meal was set the day before 'Good Friday' - the day Jesus was crucified. The feast of the Passover began at sunset on that day so this meal was a day too early and, looking out the windows in the background, too early in the day. Also the picture shows Jesus and the disciples seated. The passover is traditionally eaten reclining. If you read your bible you will find:
Matthew 26.2 "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified." 26.3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Ca'iaphas, 26.4 and took counsel together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 26.5 But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult among the people."

John 13.1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to...

The food

The table shows leavened bread (yet another reason it could not be the Passover), fish, wine and some type of herb present. To me there also appears to be cheese present. There is no sign of lamb which would traditionally have been eaten at the passover.

The Cups/Glasses/Wine/Plates

There are twelve glasses shown to be present, each containing a red wine. It would be normal to drink wine with the meal - water was often contaminated. The glasses were odd however. Glass was popular with the Romans of the time but the conservative Jews would have drunk from goblets made from clay or wood. Only the wealthy would have drunk from metal goblets. The same is true of metal plates, several of which are shown. There's no pitcher or jug shown from which the glasses could have been refilled. There is a small, apparently empty, glass bottle, but this is too small to have contained the wine needed.

The instant depicted

This is supposed to be the moment when Jesus, in the words of John says "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me". The picture shows the reaction of the disciples to this.

What's that bit centre bottom?

Around 1652, some unknown vandal decided to insert another door into the refectory and apparently decided that the only logical spot for it was smack in the middle of that wall where Leonardo had painted Christ's feet. The only evidence we have of what the original painting looked like was an oil paint copy made in the 16th centaury and now housed in Tongerlo Abbey , Antwerp

Last Supper Copy

Just to complicate matters there's also a different version of the picture in a tapestry shown below:



The Knife


Due to it's poor condition there has been some argument about
the owner of the hand holding the knife (or, as some call it, - a dagger):

The knife names

The theories are:
  1. The hand belongs to John/Mary (whoever you choose to believe they are). Peter is holding his/her wrist. Andrew, who sees this, is horrified at this.
  2. The hand belongs to a separate, obscured person, probably John, with Mary shown at the right.
  3. The hand holding the knife belongs to Peter - he has it twisted backwards away from Judas
Let's look at each theory in turn:
  1. Here's an image which has been doctored to remove Judas. Notice anything odd?

    No Judas

    If that knife is being held by John/Mary then he/she has arms like a gorilla! Would Leonardo have made a mistake like this? There's also the evidence of John/Mary's fingers intertwined in front of him/her!

    On the right of Jesus

  2. Where's JohnThis suggestion assumes that the feminine figure at the right in the image is Mary Magdalene. In that case John, the youngest of the disciples is missing. The idea is that the hand belongs to John who is obscured by Peter and
    Judas. I find this very unlikely. If it were true - where exactly would John be?

    Maybe he dropped his glass?


  1. ArmThe last suggestion is that Peter is holding the knife at a very odd angle. The 'copies' suggest that this is the case and so too does this sketch by Leonardo - clearly that knife in the hand of Peter gave him some problems and he decided to practice.

John or Mary Magdalene?

In the fictional book 'The Da Vinci Code', Daniel Brown has his character Teabing suggest that the figure seated to Jesus' right is not the disciple John but is instead Mary Magdalene. The theory, suggested several times in the past, is that Jesus married Mary and after the crucifixion she had a child by him.
I must admit that to my eye 'John' does look very effeminate. But is that enough evidence for the figure being Mary? We need to consider the following:
  • Would the Church of the time have allowed this? John or Mary?
  • It was 'normal' at the time for a young man, and John was the youngest of the disciples, to be portrayed
    as effeminate
    . Not only Leonardo did this.
  • Leonardo is suspected to have been a homosexual.
  • If 'John' is 'Mary' then where is John? Hiding under the table?
  • Is that a necklace around 'John's' neck? If so - whatever happened to 'go, sell what you possess and give to the poor'. However no fewer than six others in the painting have a similar item, possibly a garment fastener.
  • In 'The Da Vinci Code' Teabing refers to 'delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom'. Sorry - I don't see either! John's hands don't look feminine and to see a 'bosom' you need a great deal of imagination.
By far the simplest explanation is that Leonardo portrayed a young and beardless John as effeminate. The Church of the time appeared quite happy to accept this as such.

Who is where in the picture?

Who is who?

The evidence for this comes from a contemporary document discovered in 1800 which gives the names of each person in the picture.

The grouping

Looking across the picture from left to right the disciples are shown in four groups of three:
  • Bartholomew, James Minor and Andrew form a group of three. All are horrified, Andrew to the point of holding his hands up in a "let's calm down " gesture.

  • Judas, Peter and John form the next group of three. Judas has his face in shadow and
    is clutching a small bag, presumably money. He was quite often portrayed with this in last supper paintings. He is also reaching for bread at the same time as Jesus is. Peter, in the fashion of the time, is shown clutching a knife and, with his hand on John's shoulder, is asking a feminine-looking John "Who does he say it is?". John leans toward him to hear what he says creating a V shape between himself and Jesus which has been interpreted by some as an indication of a marriage between 'Mary' and Jesus.

  • Christ is very much the calm person alone in the midst of the debate.

  • Thomas, James the Elder and Philip are next. 'Doubting' Thomas is pointing upward, maybe asking for one shred of evidence that this is so. His other hand is on the table between James and Philip as though seeking something solid. James the Elder looks stunned and seems to be watching Jesus' left hand. Philip seems to be asking 'Is it me?'.

  • Matthew, Thaddeus and Simon comprise the last group of three figures. Matthew and Thaddeus seem to be asking Simon about Jesus' statement.
The time

It was supposed to take place in the evening - after the sun had set. Leonardo however, shows the outside in the three windows as being sunlit. He also shows a third light source, apparently from the front left - exactly where the windows and door are in the building. It seems he was trying to create the illusion of a bigger building and suspected it would be used mostly during the day.

The end wall
Incidentally did you know that there are over 400,000 pages refering to this painting of which 50,000 also refer to Daniel Brown's book 'The Da Vinci Code'? 1750 entries also refer to an earlier book 'The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ'
by written by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince in 1997. 750 refer to an even earlier book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (Even Daniel Brown refers to this book within his story and the character 'Leigh Teabing' seems to be a combination of 'Richard Leigh' and an anagram of 'Baigent')

About Commenting

I've rejected a number of comments from people for or against religion. This isn't the place for that. it's about the painting and the various theories which have arisen from it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

AntiPhishing in Internet Explorer Beta 2 - Grrr!

A little while ago I installed a copy of Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 and ever since I've been getting reports from SpySweeper that my computer has a possible rootkit.

It seems that Microsoft, in it's wisdom, has decided that us lesser mortals will be confused by the presence of a new folder in our temporary Internet files so decided to hide it. Not content with making it 'hidden' or a 'protected system' file, they created a new file type normally not visible to users in the same way as rootkits hide their files. SpySweeper, one of the programs I use to get rid of malware found it and told me the pathname. Knowing this I can enter it into a folder address bar and display the contents - it's:
C:\Documents and Settings\[username]\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\AntiPhishing (Where [username] is what you log on as)

The hidden folder appears to contain a single file (yes - I suppose they could have more hidden files in there). Investigating this file, it appears to contain the URL to which IE7 refers web addresses to check if they are genuine. You can't navigate to this folder the 'normal' way and deleting it is not possible the normal way either.

Now I think a browser that checks to see if that 'Barclays bank' link is genuine is a great idea. But super hiding the AntiPhishing folder is an idea that sucks! I want - no demand - to be able to investigate EVERY file on my computer. Someone who 'hides' a file makes me very suspicious. What if someone makes use of that hidden folder to 'hide' their malware?

Wonder what else Microsoft has hidden?

As to the rest of IE7? Nice one MS. Apart from that hidden folder - I like it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Politics - I'm a Democratic Anarchist

I suppose that if I were to describe my political beliefs I would say I am a democratic anarchist.

Now that seems to be a bit of a contradiction doesn't it? Let me explain. This refers to the UK but I'm pretty sure it also applies to the US and every other 'democracy':

When I was a child my parents voted Conservative so naturally I began to think I was one too. The trouble was I wasn't quite sure exactly what a Conservative was. I still don't because for the life of me there seems to be little difference now between the three major political parties in the UK where I live.

In the old days Conservatives stood for:
  • Private enterprise
  • Land/Home ownership
  • A strong belief in the right to get rich
  • A strong military
  • Private schools

The Labour party stood for:
  • Nationalised major industry
  • A welfare state
  • Public housing
  • State run schools
  • Powerful unions
  • A strong belief that the rich should pay taxes at a higher rate than the poor
  • Less spending on 'defence' (well that's the word they used but really they meant 'offence')
The Liberal party stood for:
  • Anything they thought could get votes

Now it's all changed. They all seem to want:
  • Anything that will get votes
  • Anything that will prove just how bad the 'other lot' is.
  • The media to dig up scandal about X in the 'other lot'.

If you listen to them in Parliament - well there seems to be little debate - just a slanging match with each side saying how bad the 'other lot' is. Seldom do we hear an MP from one party saying what a good idea the other party has had!

Now I want a political party which represents not the party but me. I'm darn sure that at the moment none of them do that. Not one MP has ever asked me for my views or ever responded if I give them. I know that every few years we have elections but what sort of choice is that? I may like ideas from different parties! If I've needed help from my representative they always seem to be on holiday. I don't need a representative in Parliament - I need one in my local area.

In this era of Information Technology it seems stupidity to send all representatives to a central location at great expense. What's wrong with video conferencing? We wouldn't need massive security or a fortune spent on travelling and maintaining two homes.
Here's what I would like to see:
  • Close down Parliament - it can become a tourist centre. Maybe a good place for comedians to practice in.
  • MPs work at home - in their constituencies and talk to each other by video conferencing.
  • Use the money saved to pay them more! They don't get nearly enough. Let's give them a 1000% pay rise in the hope that the increased money will attract someone to the job that can actually do it.
  • In a few years we can forget paying MPs - just give them a share of the profits of running the country. If they can't run at a profit- they shouldn't be doing the job.
  • Pay for several well qualified assistants to help each MP who can act on their behalf.
  • Scrap the party system - their job is to represent the views of their constituents. Each MP could vote for ministers and Prime minister.
  • Stop criticising others and keep quiet unless you can put forward a better idea.
  • Use Internet to communicate with those who elect you. Actually listen to them! When you need to vote on an issue you should vote as directed by your constituents in an online constituency referendum.
  • Maybe one day we can do without representatives altogether and each do it ourselves.
So that's what I mean by 'democratic anarchist'. It's a true democracy where everyone can take a part in making decisions - if they want to.

As to politicians - well anyone who wants to be one is very probably the least suitable for the job.
Any disappointed anarchists of the 'blow them all up' type should follow this link

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tesco Computers for Schools

Don't get me wrong - as an IT teacher I'm grateful for any support given to schools by industry and I've been taking advantage of Tesco's Computers for Schools scheme for years.

Did you know however of the following?


  • You have to spend over £210,000 at Tesco before a school has enough vouchers to buy just one good quality computer.
  • Vouchers are worth anything from 3.2p to 0.8p each depending on what schools spend them on.
  • It takes 2½ minutes to count, put the right way round and fasten 100 vouchers. That's 9 hours of counting for that computer!
  • You need 12,100 vouchers for the lowest cost computer
  • If you mail vouchers to the school then the stamps you use will be worth more than the vouchers

Now it seems to me that Tesco could save themselves a lot of money printing vouchers and schools a lot of time counting them if people simply associated their local school with their Tesco card and Tesco automatically donated the vouchers electronically. Stores could display what each school has received and parents could check online at Tesco.com to see progress. As it stands this scheme adds yet another time wasting task to overworked teachers.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The writing is on the wall for...


Back in the late 1970s I remember having a huge 8 inch floppy disk drive - much faster than the cassette tapes I was using then for storing my computer programs. I believe they could store 40K of information. They didn't last and we migrated to storage on 5¼ floppies which stored 100Kb and could be inserted no less than 8 different ways in the drive of which just two worked! We had great fun with them and regularly had pleas for help because 'My floppy won't work'. Getting there I found disks stapled, paper clipped, folded to go in a pocket, the wrong way round, covered in fingerprints and disks corrupted by being kept on top of speakers, fastened to the fridge with a magnet and stored under phones which wiped them when the bell rang.

I remember buying my first hard drive - 10MB (I thought I'd never fill a 30Mb one) and 5¼" floppy disks soon got replaced by 3½" ones (3" ones made a brief appearance). 3½" disks were used to load programs onto the system, to transfer files and to create backups. At their peak they cost just 5p each and could store 1.44Mb. They were still prone to fingerprints, dust and magnetic fields though and those shutters proved irresistible to being flicked until they sprung out and got stuck in the disk drive or, if you were really unlucky, pulled out with a bit of force along with the disk drive heads. As to reliability - well I've lost count of the number of times I've heard 'I can't get my file from this floppy disk'. I've seen figures which indicate that there's a 20% failure rate for floppy disks now.

I was once the proud owner of a laserdisc player which played 12" double sided disks. I had two of them, the BBC Domesday project which now can't be read since the disks got scratched and the computer used with the reader is long obselete. Sorry BBC - the 1086 version on paper far outlasted your laservision disks which took just 10 years to become useless! Today I know
of just 1 working copy - in the national archives where one of the original 1086 versions is housed. (Now wouldn't you have thought that making a freely available version on Internet would be an excellent project for the EEC to fund? Update: The BBC did it - see the content at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/domesday)

But then came CD-ROMs and CD-Rs and many floppies got replaced. My first CD-R drive was double speed and could store 650MB! According to the blurb fingerprints dust and scratches wouldn't stop them working. (I wish!) I now find that my early CD-R recordings can't be read. The problem seems to be that the reflective surface used in them is a very thin film of aluminium. Over time the slightly porus surface layer protecting it has allowed this to slowly oxidise to the point where it now contains tiny pinholes and dull spots, destroying the disk. A 'Gold CD-R' where the reflective surface is gold rather than aluminium is just fine however.

Along came DVDs and DVD-Rs and now we could store up to 8GB at a speed that would have amazed us 3 years ago. In the meantime my hard drive in my laptop computer holds 80GB and a slightly bigger one can now hold terabytes of data. As for floppy disks drives- well I have a USB one somewhere. I don't use them since they seem to have gone up in price again, are painfully slow and have a 20% failure rate.

If I want to transfer files today I use a USB memory stick. Mine hold 1 GB and have successfully survived being put through the washing machine. If I need to move bigger files I write a DVD. I can also use the SD card which fits in my digital camera and which is tiny! Both of these however are easy to lose and can become corrupted. My experience is that the less you pay for them the more unreliable they are as long term storage. (Update - my current 2015 laptop has a 2 Tb hard drive)

Today I no longer can read computer software held on cassette tapes, 8½" or 5¼" floppies; my zip drive or tape streamer and I suspect 3½" drives will be obsolete soon. (Update - Yep they're officialy obsolete)

But what of the future? How long will CDs, DVDs and Blue Ray discs last? Not for long I think. Two years ago I predicted their demise. They are just too big and too easily damaged. Holographic DVDs will make a brief appearance but they won't last either. As a long term archive for precious data any form of optical disc is a disaster unless they have a gold reflective layer. It's already obvious what the replacement will be. Look for a credit card sized solid state storage device. Big enough to write the title of a movie on and with no moving parts. They'll get bigger and bigger capacities until hard drives are a thing of the past too. (Already there are a solid state 'hard drives' available but they are still a tad expensive just now)

Not convinced? Well here's a start!
* As a genealogist I've watched the demise of storage systems since the 1960s. Paper rots and becomes brittle, parchment is more durable but costs the earth and has a problem with mould.
Even gravestones crumble and become unreadable. Remember 8 track stereo and Betamax video tapes? VHS machines are now hard to find. Computer storage is constantly changing and today's method won't be readable in 10 years. The only long term method seems to be storage on Internet (might not survive a breakdown of society) or perhaps the method still readable since the destruction of Pompeii - graffiti on a wall.

Religion?

Constantine - Founder of Christianity?


Religion fascinates me; I collect church memberships. I was baptized an Anglican. I was 'saved' at 10 as a Methodist. At 11 I went to a Quaker school and began to think. I was an agnostic at 15, Humanist at 17, an atheist at 20. I got married at 30 (the second time) as a Unitarian. By the time I went to the USA I was an atheist again - an iconoclastic one too. In Canada at 50 I became a member of the Mormon Church and now - well I'm not going to tell you. In between times I've read the 'rest' of the bible that was left out of the standard one, I've read about Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, the works of Confucius, Islam, Wicca, Norse gods, and the religion of ancient Sumeria Oh - and I've also read 'The Biggest Secret' by David Icke. So to start with - here's a few questions and possible answers.


Questions and answers
Q. What does God(s) want of man? Does he really want us to 'worship' him/her/them? Isn't the desire to be worshiped a little too human to be worthy of a god?

A1. This is what the Sumerians had to say about what the gods wanted of Man:

At the beginning of time there were only gods and goddesses on Earth. They had to work the land to grow crops to eat. This was difficult and they worked very hard. Each god and goddess had a job to do. Some dug the fields and planted the crops. Others brought water to the fields in ditches which had to be kept clear of weeds. They had to work very hard and they were not happy. They got together to discuss what could be done to lighten their workload. They went to get advice from Ea (Also known as Enki - god of wisdom), who was wise and clever. Ea suggested that he create creatures to serve them by working the land. Then the gods' and goddesses' lives would be easier. The gods and goddesses thought that Ea's plan was a good solution. Ea collected clay from around his watery home and used it to make humans. He breathed life into the clay figures, but he limited how long they would live. Only the gods and goddesses would live forever. The humans were put to work in the fields. As servants of the gods and goddesses they had to provide them with food and drink for their tables.The humans took water from the rivers and fed the dry and lifeless lands. They dug the soil and planted crops. With hard work the humans brought life to the land, and the gods and goddesses, who had brought life to the humans, were happy...for the moment...

Seems reasonable to me.

A2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (and incidentally the Jews) say:God is our spiritual father - he is literally the father of our soul or divine spark. Like any parent he wants the best for his children. We are put on Earth to learn morality amongst other things before we join him in 'heaven'. The LDS also says: If we make use of the opportunity we can eventually become gods ourselves. (Can you imagine the disastrous actions of an immoral god?) This means he doesn't really want us to worship him but a little respect would be in order.

Q. Is God male?

A. This question seems to assume that there is only one god. Many religions are quite happy to accept both gods and include female gods too. Many primitive cultures worshiped an Earth Mother. The early Christian church took a great deal of care to stamp out such beliefs, seeing it as a greater threat to Christianity than Satan appeared to be. The Mormons are happy to accept a 'heavenly mother' but don't pray to her, worship her or make very public this belief quoting 'people are very quick to take the name of God and Jesus in vain - imagine what they would do to the heavenly mother's'.
Maybe God(s) are neither 'he' nor 'she'. The concept appears unnatural to us but it's possible. For that matter - why stop at two sexes, (which are beneficial in promoting variety of genes), why not have three sexes or even more.

Q. If there is really a god how can he allow so much suffering in the world?

A. You are forgetting the scale of eternity. Suffering while on Earth, no matter how bad it seems to us now, is only a pinprick to eternity. Think about the pain of childbirth and how quickly it is forgotten. If nothing else pain on Earth gives an immortal soul something to talk about during eternity. Whilst this view seems to give the 'bad guys' carte blanche to inflict pain they do so at their peril since they are dismally failing the opportunity they have to become moral beings.

Biblical Plagiarism
Bible Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Ancient Sumerian creation: Ea (Enki) collected clay from around his watery home and used it to make humans. He breathed life into the clay figures, but he limited how long they would live. Only the gods and goddesses would live forever.

He was born on December 25th to a virgin mother; He was called a saviour, the only begotten son, and died to save humanity; he was crucified on a Friday - "Black Friday" and his blood was spilled to redeem the Earth; he suffered death with nails and stakes; he was the Father and Son combined in an earthly body; he was put in a tomb but three days later his body was gone and he was resurrected as the most high God; his body was symbolised as bread and eaten by those who worshiped him. Does this sound familiar? Jesus? No - it's a description of Attis a God worshipped in what is now Turkey about 1000 years BC.

Curius that bit about three days. The bible makes no explanation of why it was necessary. It's very similar to the zoroastrian believe that after death, the urvan (soul) is allowed three days to meditate on his/her past life. The soul is then judged by a troika Mithra, Sraosha and Rashnu. If the good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad, then the soul is taken into heaven. Otherwise, the soul is led to hell. Zoroastrianism pre-dates Christianity by 1000 years and believes in a single God. It was founded by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in Persia which at the time followed an aboriginal polytheistic religion. Zoroastrians also believe in a 'Savior' born of a virgin birth.

The biblical story of Noah and the flood is an almost exact copy of part of the Epic of Gilgamesh which was written over a thousand years before the old testiment 'Noah' version was.

The Original Christianity?
There's little doubt now that modern Christianity has it's roots in the time of Emperor Constantine of Rome (272-373 AD). Before that there were a number of variations of which we'll look at two here. The two variants of Christianity being that of the Essenes supported by James, brother of Jesus and the Romanized variant of Paul. The Dead Sea Scrolls show that there was some acrimony between these two variants. James didn't like Paul deifying his brother and adopting pagan stories about him. Paul felt that this was quite acceptable and necessary for the faith to grow.

I was fascinated when I first heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls and looked forward to their translation and publication. I waited and waited - long enough for conspiracies to grow around them. Eventually over a decade later they were published and I began to doubt that the bible as we know it was quite authentic. I started to put my thoughts together on this but in the meantime read Daniel Brown's Da Vinci Code. For a work of fiction it's obvious that he too has done a great deal of research and has chosen to present it in a fictional form. It's a great read and I recommend it to anyone and look forward to the forthcoming film. Once the film comes out in May 2006 I wouldn't be surprised to see the issue raised in the public awareness.1 Just remember it's fiction based upon sound historical facts.
This would be a good place to comment on the court case about the Da Vinci Code being the plagarised version of the non-fiction 'Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' but ... Let me devote a separate page to it.
Footnote
1 Well I've seen the film but have to admit I was disappointed. I don't think it will rate as much and is unlikely to win Oscars. My advice - watch it if you want but buy the book in preference.

The 'Good Old Days'

I'm now old enough to remember the 'good old days' but were they really good? Here's a collection of my memories from these times.

I spent the first eight years of my life living in Newcastle on Tyne. We then moved to a small farm in the Pennines. I remember:
  • Gas street lights. Newcastle may have been the first city in the world to have converted a street of gas lights to electricity (1881) but my street 'Julian Avenue' was still lit by gas when the picture, right, was taken in 1953. I remember a man with a long pole coming round every night and morning to switch them on and off. They were replaced before
    1957 with electric lamps.

  • I remember being allowed out after dark at night to get Fish (3d/1.25p) and chips (1d/0.4p). No worries then about children being abducted or traffic.

  • I remember some children going to school in bare feet at my primary school.

  • I remember shaved heads painted with a purple dye to kill ringworm.

  • I remember smog so thick you could not see across the street. Everyone burnt coal to heat their house and in damp conditions the smoke combined with mist to make killer smog. My grandmother, who suffered from bronchitis, dreaded it.

  • I remember at two recovering from measles - it nearly killed me and left me unable to walk and bothered by bright lights. I remember learning to walk again by steadying myself against the wall.

  • I remember going with my sister to get her pram (that's her in the picture above) and, to strengthen my legs, my tricycle. My trike had a handle attached so that Mum could push when my legs got tired.

  • I remember we were the first in our street to get a television and being shooed outside to play while my father and friends watched Aston Villa beat Manchester in the 1957 Cup Final.

  • Kids programs at the time were all on BBC - it was the only channel. Highlights of my day were 'Watch with Mother' featuring Bill and Ben, and Andy Pandy. I thought they were boring but still watched them. Another kids program was Muffin the Mule (which nowardays sounds more like some weird sexual perversion!). I remember too regularly seeing a card saying 'Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible'. Between programs there was music and an 'Interlude' card. My Aunt bought a television too but her's had only a ten inch screen and was used with a huge magnifying glass in front of it.

  • I remember moving with my parents to our new home, a small farm in the wilds of Northumberland. Our new house had no electricity and no flush toilet either!

  • I remember going to bed with an oil lamp, 'stone' hot water bottles which made an awful thud if they got kicked out of bed, chamber pots under the bed and the sight of our useless TV in the sitting room.

  • I remember an earth closet outside in a small whitewashed and very drafty building.

  • I remember a bathtub built under a workbench in the kitchen. Our water supply came from a ditch above our house. In wet weather the bath water being brown with silt and worms being washed into the bath on occasion.

  • I remember snow in a BIG way. Our farm was high up in the Pennines and in winter we would always have a stock of tinned food available in case we got snowed in. 1963 was the worst.

  • June snow
  • In 1963s winter I remember getting tangled up in the telephone wires as I walked to the local village. They and the telephone posts were buried in snow drifts that were 22ft deep when they were cut out.
    1963 snowdrift
    That year there was still snow around in June.

  • I remember the first snow blower being imported from Switzerland by the council. They flew it in to Newcastle, took it by low loader to Allendale and then drove it towards an incredible 44 ft deep drift across the road to Carrshield. 200 yards from the drift it broke down and they had to cut the road open the old way.

  • I remember being irritated to see the spelling of our local village in OS maps being 'Carr Shield' instead of 'Carrshield'. Guess what - they still have it wrong and so too have Multimap and Google!

  • I remember greenhouses being flattened by those snow blowers until the council erected 'Snowblower - blow left' signs. I also remember how slippery the rut was that their steel guide wheel left in the snow.

  • I remember silence, on a quiet night you could hear the river in the valley bottom, the wind in the trees and sheep bleating on the fells. Some nights the loudest noise was the sound of your own breathing.

  • I remember that a busy road meant two cars per hour.

  • I remember walking home from a neigbours house having forgotten my torch. No streetlights, no moon and a cloudy sky meant total darkness. I walked until I hit the grass verge then changed course slightly until I hit the verge at the other side. Passing the graveyard was creepy. There must have been some light since I could just see the white marble gravestones.

  • I remember being sent away to boarding school because I passed the 11+ exam and was the worlds worst traveler. Travel sickness tablets made me sick - my parents didn't believe that until one day our journey was delayed and I threw up without ever getting in the car.

  • As a kid with poor social skills, a hatred of sport and a love of books, bullying played a major part in my school life. I still remember the names of my tormentors and look forward to hearing that they have been run over slowly by a road roller.

  • I remember and still have the newspaper clipping of Yuri Gagarin's space trip.

  • I remember a girl from Liverpool at my school, Penny, raving about a group called 'The Beatles'. We all said they were rubbish. Later Penny went to a Beatles party and was given a cigarette by Paul. She kept it on her dressing table until the day her father found it and smoked it. She didn't speak to him for nearly three months.

  • I remember being impressed by the Cuban crisis and the civil rights movement in the USA and thinking that Kennedy was a dead man if he pursued it. I was in the lower school common room playing table tennis when I heard he had been assassinated. Having been to Texas I still wonder why he was in an open topped car rather than a sealed air conditioned one.

Da Vinci Code and all that




In 2003, author Daniel Brown's book 'The Da Vinci Code' was published
and rapidly rose through the book charts to become a best seller.

The plot revolves around the theory that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene
and had children by her whose decendants still survive, protected by
a secret organisation, the Priory of Sion.


In Febuary 2006 Daniel Brown and his publishers were taken to court
by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of the
non fiction book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Baigent and Leigh
claim that Brown has plagarised their work.


Brown freely acknowleges that he has based his novel on their book's
theory.

He even quotes the name and authors as a reference book found on the
bookshelf of Sir Leigh Teabing, a character in Brown's book. Even
the name Leigh Teabing seems to be made up of Richard Leigh and an anagram
of Baigent. An earlier character in the Da Vinci Code has the surname
Saunière, a name which features prominently in Holy Blood and
Holy Grail. Brown states that his book however is fiction based on facts
- and facts cannot be protected by copyright.


What do Baignet and Leigh hope to gain by taking Brown to court? If
they win they could prevent further infringement of their copyright and
could bar Random House, the publisher, from continuing to publish Brown's
novel. They could also affect the British release of a star-studded
film version of the story. But hold on a second - Random House? That's
the name of the publisher of Holy Blood and Holy Grail!


Now it could just be my suspicious mind but so far in the case Leigh
and Baigent's seem to be going out of their way to persue an unwinnable
case. It's already been accepted in law that facts can't be copyrighted.
In fact the only way for the case to be valid is for the authors of Holy
Blood and Holy Grail to admit that their book is fiction rather than
fact - which would make their book worthless. While they do this the
lawyers for Brown and the Publisher seem to be doing everything they
can to do to prolong the case, by making clearly false statements.
One newspaper reported that the lawyers for the publisher said that the
Priory of Sion did not feature in Brown's novel. Maybe he hasn't read
it yet!


The judge has put a hold on the case while he reads both books. Something
I'm sure he will find enjoyable and thought provoking since both books
are well worth reading. Maybe he won't notice the Observer comment printed
on the dustcover of Holy Blood and Holy Grail "A marvelous theme for
a novel".


If you go to your local bookstore, you'll probably find them
next to each other. I have the illustrated versions of both and the publishers
have clearly made them to compliment each other. They are even very similar
in size. Holy
Blood and Holy Grail was first published in 1982. It was popular then
but it's sales slackened off over the years. Since the publication of
the Da Vinci Code however it's been re-issued and after the start of
the court proceedings it's climbed to number 4 in the best seller lists.


Now it seems to me that the publication of The Da Vinci Code has not
harmed the authors Baigent and Leigh one jot. In fact it's made them
a lot of sales they wouldn't otherwise have got. As to the court case
- it's probably a cheaper way of advertising than comercials on TV. Win
or lose they'll make money from it but let's hope they lose since:



  1. If they win then their book must be fiction. I like their book and
    wouldn't want it admitted as worthless.

  2. If they win without it being fiction it will have a profound effect
    on authors. As one expert on copyright put it 'This case...
    could open a floodgate of litigation for people who have had their
    ideas, as they see it, stolen by more successful people.
    '


Postscript:


Seems the Court agreed with me. Baignet and Leigh lost their case although
they said they would appeal. The film was released on time and... I wouldn't
expect it to win any Oscars. Buy the book - it's better.