Вячеслав Иванович Полунин – The World’s Greatest Clown.

Вячеслав Иванович Полунин (Vyacheslav Ivanovich Polunin ) has been called “The World’s Greatest Clown”. I went and saw him in Sydney in the year 2000. It was an enlightening, inspirational and wondrous experience.

Slava’s Snowshow: 

As to whether he would describe himself, as others have, as an “existential clown”, his reply is typically Zen. “I would agree with that as well. Every object can have a different meaning. A maple leaf is a symbol of Canada — yet for a street cleaner it is garbage, for a child it’s a toy, for a train conductor it could be a hazard. But it’s just a maple leaf. In my show I try to present the maple leaf in such a way that each person can see each thing in it.”

“The more you want to be an anarchist, the more you have to know. There must be balance,” Slava explains, teetering on an imaginary tightrope to illustrate his point. “The more you reach out with one hand, the more the other must reach, or you fall over. So the more I want to be free, the more I have to learn.”

Slava’s biography

Depression initiated.

Science can prevent depression

From my own personal experience, the state of chronic depression is a relatively slow & insidious process which begins by the inability to make major choices within a severely conflicting environment. Highly important decisions (those which affect not just yourself, but other people as well) take time to solve. But you dwell on the impact of all future negative consequences and their importance, and these types of situations cannot be solved simply or quickly. You then enter a repetitive negative thought state, constantly dwelling on the major conflicting problems so much so that you can’t even begin to make what would otherwise be very minor choices.

This leads to a complete lack of motivation to actually do anything to help yourself get out of the hole you’ve spiralled down into.  It’s a classic example of what physicists term a “feedback loop”. Although you may or may not be aware of it, there appears to be no means of escape -eventually- you become so entrapped by your own pessimistic thoughts that you firmly believe that any choice you make will lead to unhappiness. It’s a terrible state of self pity & guilt. So you begin to contemplate the easiest ways of easing your own suffering, which is of course where the real danger lies. It is a complete breakdown of the mind. Its impossible to snap out of, even for normally hyper-optmistic thinkers.

Benedict Allen, a modern day explorer.

Benedict Allen, a modern day explorer.

Benedict Allen, author, explorer, public speaker and presenter, is one of Britain’s best known explorers. He has published nine books, two of them bestsellers, and his pioneering films of his expeditions – occasionally with a film crew but more typically without – have paved the way for the current generation of TV adventurers. Uniquely in television, his philosophy is to immerse himself in extreme or alien environments, relying not on satellite phones and other “backup” but to go alone and learn from indigenous people.

His approach to exploration is exemplified by his decision to undergo the harrowing “crocodile” initiation ceremony in New Guinea – he was given extensive crocodile scars and beaten for six weeks. It was an attempt not just to report back about things never before witnessed at the frontiers of our knowledge but to understand a different perspective on the world.

“To me exploration isn’t about conquering natural obstacles, planting flags… It’s not about going where no one’s gone before in order to leave your mark, but about the opposite of that – about making yourself vulnerable, opening yourself up to whatever’s there and letting the place leave its mark on you.” – Benedict Allen.

His belief in leaving the back-up systems often employed by adventurers – satellite phones, GPS navigation etc – at home make his solo expeditions particularly precarious; likewise, his technique of not bringing along camera-crews continues to ensure he is the only “adventurer” on TV often in very real and constant jeopardy; arguably, he has the most dangerous job seen on television. [Read more →]

Canarian Expressions I’ve picked up:

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  1. “Panza de burro” translates as “the donkey’s belley” but what it really refers to is the band of stratus cloud that permanently hangs over the la Orotava valley in the North of Tenerife.
  2. “El quinto pino”… similar to the place Timbukto, in Mali, Africa, a very distant land. Signifies that the place is far from anywhere.
  3. “llorar al barranco” … similar to cry over spilt milk. Like today I lost my keys and my aunt then said: “pues que vas a hacer, ¿vete y llorar al barranco?”.
  4. “No es un moco de pavo”. It’s easier said than done.
  5. “Echo polvo”. I’m burned out. I’m so tired, I’m emitting dust.
  6. “Me importa un caraco” = I don’t give a shit.
  7. “Tetas al aire.” Even 4 year olds know this one means “to go topless”.
  8. “¡Chiquita fiesta!” I’m still yet to figure the exact meaning of this…
  9. “¡Ño!”, but pronounced more like “ñoj”. Similar to “wow”, an expression of surprise. Although after hiperdino started using this word in their cheap TVs ad campaigns, you don’t tend to hear it in conversation as much.
  10. “¡Agüita!” Another expression of surprise.

To not know your place in the world. What happens when you can’t encounter your nano-niche?

The purpose of life. Why are we here?

Are we all making “nano-niches” for ourselves, in an attempt to fit into this new highly-customised, choice-oriented advanced consumer society? We now join online local communities such as forums, blog directories, myspace, dating sites, chat rooms. We subscribe to newsletters, RSS feeds. We can search for whatever we like with google, almost without limits. As individuals, we’re always searching to redefine ourselves, to find our life purpose.

But what happens if and when you can’t seem to find your own unique, specific niche? I’m talking about major areas of your life, like employment. Your ideal partner? Your own distinct style? Your identity? Can these two states of overchoice and underchoice lead to mental health problems? What happens to your mood when there are an infinite number of things you could possibly do with your life? Do you begin to block everything out, deny existence of something? [Read more →]

Happiness through Self Awareness!

Find Inspiration; Happiness through Self Awareness.I found this particular website last month. Internet masters with more than 10 years experience know to be picky when adding newfound sites to your ever-expanding list of favourites, otherwise they can get out of control. But this is one example of a site that, once encountered, will surely remain in your favourites folder forever. If you’re lacking motivation, inspirationm have pessimistic thoughts, are depressed, etc, you won’t ever want to lose it.

Happiness through Self Awareness; Change core beliefs, control emotional reactions, and create love and happiness in your relationships”

Anyway, normally I don’t link to other blogs directly, but everything this man writes is pure gold! I wanted to show his advice to others, especially the ones with mental health problems -I think that’s nearly everyone these days- because I really think this man has incredible wisdom, which he is so willing to share with the world in order to make it a better place.

Ostracised, but that’s alright…

cultural discriminationWell in recent news, I’ve been banned from the TenerifeForum.com, again. And basically, I could see it coming. Hence the recent posts concerning social outcasts. I talk about the breakdown of modern society; have we lost that all important ability to interact and communicate with others? Either face to face or even on the telephone. The internet seems to have stolen that from us.

The first time, all it took was to say “I think I’ll head over to www.sun4free.com … adios!” in a private message to one of the moderators, and they took that as a form of self-exile. “Self ban” it’s called, athough I never specifically requested that. I put it down to lack of communication. I simply intended to login less & not post as much. But given the chance, that one person jumped at the opportunity to expunge me from their growing community. Now I can’t even login to find & quote some of my former posts -a pity- because I think some of them were quite profound, especially in the context of society & culture.

The second time, a week later, the excuse given was for petty minor signature violations and spamming via PM. I changed the signature, removed my commercial link (which wasn’t allowed as it contained a link to my Spanish cycling forum with less than 10 members) and left the link to this blog. What happened next? Once again without warning, they notified me that the required font size is two not three. Except they bannished me before I had any chance to change it. Well done!

Synchronicity 

Let’s cut to the chase – Why the discrimination of all of a sudden?

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Life from an Outsider’s Perspective:

Life from an Outsider’s Perspective. 

My advice to anyone thinking of moving to a foreign land is to start thinking of yourself as an immigrant not just an expatriate, accept the local culture for what it is, try your HARDEST to learn the language and use it wherever possible. Don’t make the minimum effort – go for maximum effort! Think of it this way: Language is the very basis of communication, hence it is also the foundation of a new culture.

Talk with local people as often as possible, mix with them, mingle. Eventually you’ll create new friends & associates who you can talk to openly, then you may start to understand why their culture is the way it is. Always remember that no culture is superior to another… but we can ask the question “why are so they different?”

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Contrary to popular belief, anyone can learn a new language, it just takes a lot of effort. Many English-only speaking people tend to think that the English language is superior to all others, and furthermore, that it is the responsibility of “foreigners” to learn English (even in non-English speaking countries!). But they also tend to under-appreciate genuine attempts to learn English. They take for granted the ability to speak, because they’re ignorant about the level of effort needed to learn a second language. I know, because I was definitely guilty of that when I could only speak one language. We expect to hear perfect English, but that is almost like asking the impossible. That mentality is just so wrong! It’s hypocritical, arrogant & conceited.

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

To all immigrants and expatriates, I say the following: realise you’re not bringing your home nation with you. If you think your own culture or country is superior, ask yourself why you are moving away from it. After learning the local language, you should attempt to meld the best customs or attributes that you’ve learned from each separate culture. Try to understand the patterns of social behaviour from the perspective of a culture other than your own. Avoid falling victim to “immiscible culture” syndrome, where you fail to truly integrate & assimilate with local culture.

“Multiculturalism” or “Immiscible Cultures”?

A strangely relevent cartoon.

WARNING: possible controversy ahead!!

Who actually invented the word “multiculturalism” anyway? I think it was our politicians who did that (at least in Australia). Sure, most cultures in a multicultural society tolerate each other, but I think the real trouble arises when immigrant cultures make little or no attempt to integrate into the host culture, leading to the “immiscible culture” syndrome described below. I notice that a lot of racist comments get thrown about in general conversation when it is 100% certain that the comments will not be heard.

As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no difference between a British person emmigrating to Tenerife and an Indian emigrating to London, or an Chinese person moving permanently to Australia… all these groups of people are attempting to improve their standard of living, and they can hardly be blamed for that. On the contrary - I’ll be the first to commend them on their courage as it is likely a real lot more difficult than they first imagined.

Normal people speak from their personal experiences, and here’s mine: Australia is commonly referred to now as being a multicultural society or a multicultural nation. I used to live in Sydney, Australia, in what was relatively normal suburb called “Hurstville”. I lived 28 years of my life there. Throughout that time, the Hurstville retail zone was completely transformed. What happened was this:

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The 1991 Le Mans Mazda Team and the legendary rotary “Renown” 787B.

Mazda team 787b rotary renown 1991 Le Mans
In 1991, Mazda became the first and only Japanese car manufacturer to win the prestigous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Using the Wankel rotary engine, it was also the only non-piston engine car to ever win. All three Mazda 787B cars to enter the race finished the gruelling event in respectable 1st, 6th and 8th positions. Of a total of 46 entrants, only 12 cars officially finished the race, 4 did not make the required classification, 22 did not finish, while the remaining eight either failed to start or qualify.

 So successful was Mazda’s entry in the 1991 race that the rules for subsequent races were changed to ban the rotary engine from competing in subsequent Le Mans endurance races. At the end of the season, the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) banned the use of Wankel-type rotary engines in the racing series which it governed to solely allow cars with the 3.5L F1 engine to compete.

1991 was the first, last, and only time that a Japanese car has won the 24 Hours of LeMans. The victory sealed the 787B’s status as an icon with Mazda fans throughout the world. Despite the enormous success of the 787B and its Wankel powerplant, Mazda didn’t fully exploit its historic victory through marketing campaigns and advertising. However it did strengthen sales partially for Mazda’s road cars…

Simplicity of design:

The 1991 Le Mans Mazda Team. Rotary “Renown” 787B

The powerplant:

It used a 4-rotor R26B Wankel engine which produced over 700 hp (522 kW). Engine speed (RPM’s) were deliberately kept low for longevity under the extreme stresses incurred during a 24-hour endurance race. The 787 was reported to have a redline around 9000rpm. However, interviews with Mazda’s 787 race engineers revealed that the power of the quad-rotor increased dramatically above 9000rpm. One engineer stated that the car could develop more than 930hp with a redline around 10,500rpm.

Engineers also commented that during the post-race inspection and tear-down of the quad-rotor engine they discovered that all aspects of the engine were still in excellent condition and could have run another 24-hour race.

“I kept seeing this bumble bee appear in my rearview mirror,” – Davy Jones, one of the TWR Jaguar drivers, of the Mazda.

Advantages of the Rotary Engine:

Wankel engines have several major advantages over reciprocating piston designs, in addition to having higher output for similar displacement and physical size. Wankel engines are considerably simpler and contain far fewer moving parts. For instance, because valving is accomplished by simple ports cut into the walls of the rotor housing, they have no valves or complex valve trains; in addition, since the rotor is geared directly to the output shaft, there is no need for connecting rods, a conventional crankshaft, crankshaft balance weights, etc.

The elimination of these parts not only makes a Wankel engine much lighter (typically half that of a conventional engine of equivalent power), but it also completely eliminates the reciprocating mass of a piston engine with its internal strain and inherent vibration due to repeated acceleration and deceleration, producing not only a smoother flow of power but also the ability to produce more power by running at higher rpm. [Read more →]

Social Networking Theory

Social Network Model

Almost everyone has heard of Qantas, Pepsi and IBM. They’ve saturated the world with publicity. These are household names because everyone is familiar with the business & their products. That is to say, we all know they exist, we all knows what they sell, and most importantly we all know how to reach them.

At the extreme opposite end is a hermit living in Timbuktoo. He doesn’t have much connection with the outside world (if any), hence is local network may consist of him and his dog. So in other words, It’s a question of “popularity”.

Social network theory views social relationships in terms of nodes and ties. Nodes are the entities within a network, and ties are the all-important relationships or connections between them. Entities may be organisations, businesses or individuals. They say that any two people on the planet are linked to each other by only six ties, on average.

3D three-dimensional nebulous network

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Driving on a busy Spanish freeway on my very first lesson didn’t exactly reduce my anxiety level…

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PRACTISE LESSONS:

After attending many driving theory lectures and passing the test in spanish, I recently received my medical certificate after several lengthy delays.

I had my first driving lesson yesterday, in Spanish. Firstly, there is no option for learning with an automatic vehicle. That’s fair enough because this place has no flat roads and autos just don’t cut it here. Secondly, you’re not licensed to drive without an instructor until you’ve passed the practical exam. Naturally I was a nervous wreck, despite taking half a gram of trankimazen beforehand. Inside the car, he started off by explaining all the instruments and their functions. I showed the instructor my clammy palms, and he rather kindly handed me a serviette.

Although he spent a fair while talking about the electric windows, indicators and lights, he then seemed to spend little time explaining the gearbox and handbrake, finishing off by skipping straight over the use of the clutch, foot brake and accelerator. Before I knew it, he was asking me to reverse out of the parking space, and straight up a 15% slope!

From there it was around a tight bend, along a narrow street, and back down a 20% slope (where he gratefully assisted me with the pedals). We travelled from La Orotava through the old windy narrow road to Santa Ursula as far as El Sauzal. I thought we’d be heading straight over the bridge to the quiet zone of El Sauzal, but there was no such luck. Instead, at the last second, without any fore-warning, he made me turn right and incorporate straight onto the TF5 freeway.

Driving on a busy Spanish freeway on my very first lesson didn’t exactly reduce my anxiety level, and after 5 minutes or so, we had to stop for some diesel fuel. He went inside to pay, so lucky for me this was my little 5 minute break. Meanwhile, that sweat-drenched serviette quickly became a soggy ball of paper mush. It was at that point that I considered taking another trankimazen - but I thought I better not because the full gram is enough to knock most people out cold. I still hadn’t managed to get accustomed to using 3 pedals, and we were doing 100km/hr by the end of the lesson. But after having thrown me in the deep end so to speak, confronting my fears directly, head on, I’m sure I won’t be as nervous in future.

The Age of Information & “Overchoice”

Time Management | Age of Information | Overchoice

We live in a unique time; our almost instant global communications network is enough to impress anyone; but can all the knowledge it contains be a bad thing? In our time of the internet, both the growth of information and the ability to access that information is also increasing at an exponential rate. The vast amount of accessible knowledge overwhelms even the most capable person, especially about all the bad news we receive. It looms subconciously in our minds, while we try and forget.

We must make more and more daily choices than ever before. For a start, think of all the options on all your personal electronic devices. Customisable features such as screen savers, ring tones, fonts & sizes, printer & graphics settings, software programs. The list is endless.

Which e-mails to delete? Why? What to buy and sell. Where? Who should I meet? When? What information should I try do I avoid, and what information should I attempt to seek out? How do I do that? And ultimately: What choices do I choose to make? What do I do with my life now?

Graeme Obree, “The Flying Scotsman”.

Graeme Obree, “The Flying Scotsman”. Cycling to triumph through my darkest hours.

On 17th July 1993, the scottish cyclist Graeme Obree stunned the international cycling world when he emerged form obscurity to smash Francesco Moser’s World Hour Record, which had stood for nearly a decade. His new record, 51.596km in one hour, achieved at the Hamar velodrome in Norway, was celebrated as a triumph for the ordinary rider, for the outsider over the establishment. He had eclipsed Moser’s record by 445m. Even more impressive was that he did it at sea level (which cost him a kilometer per hour in speed).

Graeme Obree’s  first attempt at the one hour record was unsuccessful, missing Moser’s record by nearly 1 km.  Normally, weeks of recovery are needed after such a demanding effort, but Graeme Obree wanted to try again immediately following the failed attempt! Although that idea was not permitted, Obree was determined to try again the very next day. Most journalists had left and Obree had to beg the officials to let him have another go. This time he was successful.

Obree’s achievements were seen as remarkable since his riding had been largely at amateur events, and he did not have major sponsorship and development support. Instead, he developed a unique riding position (the “crouch”, or “tuck” position) and constructed a unique bike frame to use.

Obree created his bicycle “Old Faithful” with the aim of reducing wind resistance and instability, while increasing pedalling power. He reduced air resistance from the legs by designing a very narrow bottom bracket and dispensing with a top tube to prevent his knees from hitting the frame. The bike also had chainstays at 45 degrees rather than horizontal to allow for the cranks to pass with such a narrow bottom bracket. He placed the handlebars so that his shoulders were almost touching them, with his arms folded by his side as he cycled: this reduced air resistance on his head and torso. The seat was placed so that his legs exerted maximum force on the pedals. Later a single-bladed front fork was added, designed by Mike Burrows to be as narrow as possible. The main bearing was taken from a washing machine, a fact that Obree later regretted revealing to journalists as they thenceforward always referred to this before any other of his innovations and achievements, reducing the likelihood of team sponsorship deals. Although he made his first (failed) hour record attempt on a similar carbon fibre frame, Obree used “Old Faithful” to break the hour record.

“To take the record I’m going to have to grit my teeth and then grit them some more and spit blood to make the difference. And, after doing all that, I’ll either just break the record or just miss it. I might only add 10 meters to it, because I think the record is now at the edge of human ability.” – Graeme Obree (Cycling Weekly)

On the way to breaking the World hour record, he created major controversy in the professional cycling world over his unique riding style and his pioneering construction techniques. He famously had to use washing machine parts to complete the building of his ‘Old Faithful’ machine. Graeme’s story starts with his tough upbringing in the Ayrshire valleys, where he found his escape by taking to the roads. From there he tells an inspiring story of what it takes to become a world record breaker, of his thrilling head-to-head duels with Chris Boardman and how he became a major international star on the European circuit. The story ends with Graeme’s searingly honest account of his battle against manic depression which drove him to attempt suicide.

[Read more →]

Book Review: “How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity” by Brian Goodwin

Book Review: “How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity” by Brian Goodwin

The main theme is about how DNA doesn’t need to provide information in every detail to produce an organism. Chemical, physical and mathematical forces also play a significant part in the production of an organism. The book is also about how natural selection is not the only process at work for evolutionary advancement. I totally agree with the conclusion, and he’s sure changed my thoughts on the subject, but it was a challenge to read it all because of the way it is written. It could have been more fun.

How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity

For the others that read this book and still don’t get “how the leopard changed its spots” – its a metaphor. Leopards aren’t supposed to change their spots. The leopard symbolises scientists like Richard Dawkins and others who are fixated with genetic evolution and DNA. After reading this book, will they change their ways? Its not about leopards!

It does have loads of fascinating examples, with all the relevant diagrams & figures to make the point clear, so he’s done a good job assembling all of those. From ant colonies & the BZ reaction, to evolution of the eye & fibrillation in the human heart. An example: it is the concentration of calcium that causes the single celled organism (Acetabularia) to grow to a particular shape, NOT the DNA. He also explains why a sunflower seed head forms a spiral, and it is all to do with mathematics, nothing to do with sunflower DNA. Fascinating stuff!!

The trouble with this book is that the author uses the word “dynamic” waaaay too much. It quickly becomes very annoying. He is obsessed with that word. Open the book at random, and you will see what I am talking about. Aside from that, it is very tedious to read. Instead of making the ideas easily understood, it seems Brian Goodwin goes out of his way to make it complicated.

I’d really like to give it 3.5 stars, because at the end of it I was glad I read it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone, because there are better books out there (you might like to see my other reviews on popular science books). Remember that you can only read a limited number of books in your lifetime, and this one is not perfect. Buy it ONLY if you’re specifically interested in this field of science OR you’ve read all the truly good books out there and want to lower your standards a bit and still keep reading popular science!

10 foods that help reduce stress:

Turkey—Turkey contains an amino acid called L-Tryptophan. This amino acid triggers the release of serotonin, which is a feel-good brain chemical. This is the reason why many people who eat turkey feel relaxed, or even tired, after eating it. L-Tryptophan has a documented calming effect.

Reducing stress might be as easy as eating the right foods:

1. Blueberries—Besides having been identified as one of the healthiest foods around, blueberries are very high in vitamin C, which has been shown to give the body added reserves to help it deal with high levels of stress. Also, blueberries contain a high amount of fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels that fluctuate too much are a major contributor to stress for some people.

2. Low fat or skim milk—Milk is very high in calcium and B vitamins, which help to build your bones and protect nerve health. It is also high in protein, and protein also helps blood sugar to stay stabilized. Try mixing some milk, a sweetener and some frozen blueberries in the blender for a healthy pick-me-up that is super good for you, and an excellent alternative to ice cream!

3. Oranges—Oranges are very rich in vitamin C. When you are stressed, your body releases even more free radicals than usual. Vitamin C helps to keep the free radicals in check, and repairs the body. Basically, it helps protect the body from the cumulative effects of stress.

4. Brown rice—All whole grains, including bulger wheat, quinoa, oats and brown rice contain plenty of B vitamins and also supply serotonin producing carbohydrates that do not spike blood sugar levels. They also contain plenty of healthy fiber.

5. Green vegetables—Broccoli, kale, and other dark green vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins that help replenish our bodies in times of stress. Many vegetables also contain potassium, which is good for our nerves and can calm them. Also, when we eat a diet high in vegetables, we do not feel weighed down by our diet, and it is easier to get stress-reducing exercise.

6. Dried apricots—These are rich in magnesium, which is a stress-buster. Some people even say that magnesium helps reduce heart palpitations brought on by stress. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant as well. Apricots are also high in fiber and vitamin C. Don’t eat too many of them, though, because they also contain quite a bit of fructose, a type of sugar. [Read more →]

Book Review: “In Search of Nature” by Edward O. Wilson.

In Search of Nature by Edward O. Wilson

The author has a very easy to read style. It is very succinct and eloquent. If you love nature, you will LOVE this book! The chapter “In the company of ants” is probably one of the best chapters [of any book] that I have ever read. I found the hierarchal structure of the leaf-cutter ants very intriguing. What marvellous little creatures! I’ll never look at an ant the same way again. Here’s a little snippet for you:

“Watch where you step. Be careful of little lives. Feed them crumbs of coffeecake. They also like bits of tuna and whipped cream. Get a magnifying glass. Watch them closely. And you will be as close as any person may ever come to seeing social life as it might evolve on another planet.”

I also loved three other chapters entitled, “Humanity seen from a distance”, “The little things that run the world” and the final chapter, “Is humanity suicidal?”. Other interesting chapters are about snakes, or rather serpents, sharks, altruism & aggression, etc. The essence of the book is really as the title suggests, “in search of nature”.

Towards the end, a sincere and legitimate message is delivered by the author. It is a very moving assertion and everyone, yes everyone, should read it. Edwin O. Wilson is proof that Carl Sagan wasn’t the only good popular science author.

Book Review: “Cats’ Paws and Catapults; Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People”, by Steven Vogel.

cat’s paws and catapults - book review

This book contains numerous examples of design, from an engineering perspective. The theme is on comparing the design of evolution with that of technological invention. Although the book has almost precisely a 50% natural and 50% artificial split, you get the impression that the author is slightly biased in favour of technology.

Steven Vogel acknowledges they are different: nature abhors using straight lines, engineers love them; nature has not been able to employ metals, yet they are commonly used in our constructions. Although I for one would never be critical (as this guy sometimes is) of nature by saying that it never utilises metals or whatever. It doesn’t need to – it simply isn’t required. To favour an I-beam over a tree limb is foolish and misguided. Is a piece of metal or lump of concrete alive? Certainly not. The astonishing feature of nature is that it manages to evolve these things, that are inherently living entities, which can grow and replicate themselves with no awareness or foresight!

So the trouble with this book is that it doesn’t address the fact that a tree does way more than just support itself: a tree is not merely a vertical structure; it is an extremely complex photosynthesis machine. [Read more →]

The Circus of Jumping Through Hoops – A Spanish Beauracracy.

red-tape-beauracracy.jpg

In Spain, learning how to drive is like attending University lectures. In fact the theory lessons are so incredibly pedantic, it could be complete curriculum for a university subject entitled “Advanced Driving Theory”. However, Spanish traffic control is not really concerned at all about safety, just semantics. They attempt to trick you with each and every question. The answers usually all technically correct, or there’s one blatantly wrong answer. It’s just a question of which one of the remaining questions is most correct. And it’s going to get worse say the instructors, because they’re going to introduce what they call “multi-multiplechoice”… that’s where you can choose answers a; b; c; a and b; b and c; and finally a and c. Anything to get you to fail. But that’s a whole other story…

To be eligable for the theory test, you must first pass a medical examination (except I’d hardly call it that). First they ask for your €35 in the reception. From there, a psychologist asks you to perform a quick physical dexterity test. Next, you’re trundled off to yet another room where they do a rapid eye test. Finally you get to see another Doctor in yet another room who supposedly signs the paper, granting you a clean bill of health. Hey presto, you’re done in under 3 minutes!

Except it didn’t go like that for me. In my case, this relatively straightforward procedure was has just been yet another delay. [Read more →]

Two year old attempts the notoriously difficult Spanish driving theory test! *UPDATED with sample questions*

 Contradictory road signs in Tenerife, Canary Islands. Bureaucratic Spanish Driving Test.

THEORY LESSONS: 

Almost everybody takes for granted the ability to drive a car. OK, maybe not in the first few weeks… you’re an adolescent, you study the Learner manual for a few hours, sit in front of a computer at your local Roads & Traffic Authourity Office, and bingo, you’ve got yourself a new license. You’re now permitted to drive and you can worry about getting more experience and hence your P plates at a later time.

Now picture this: you are required to get your licence in another country, in another language. Because the country where you were born -Australia- and the country you now live in -Spain- well they don’t have any official reciprocal driving agreement. [Read more →]