Tuesday 29 March 2011

Music for Japan ...

No time for a blog post this week. I am pulling all nighters trying to get St. James' Rooster finished by Easter. Phew! I wish these 12th century folks would hurry it along a bit.

Anyway, there are more important things going on in the world than my little rants and obsessions. Here is one of them I hope you will investigate.

I heard their very sweet plea on Spotify and Googled them immediately. The video is very low key and their sincerity will break your heart. Here is also the Facebook page. If you have any contact with a musical group or venue or any way to help them promote or raise funds, I urge you: do please get involved. What they say is true: now that the shocking images have receded along with the tide of destruction we are perhaps more worried about how it will all affect us. But there are still 17,000 dead or unaccounted for, many children orphaned, livelihoods lost, a nation in mourning, an economy in ruins and an environmental catastrophe about to taint their land for centuries to come if a solution is not found soon to the leaking reactor.

Anyway, enough from me. Here are some links.



Please send them to your Facebook friends and everyone in your mailing list (undisclosed recipients). Let's show them we care...

Back soon.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Beyond Good and Evil ...?

I read recently - and forgive me for my lack of accuracy - that a top ranking Japanese official said that the damage done by the tsunami was a punishment for the Japanese demand for more and more consumer goods. I have a horrible feeling that it was the Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, but it doesn't really matter. It is not unusual that someone blames such-and-such disaster on the people most affected by it: the wrath of (whatever) god, or gods.

I don't subscribe to this kind of god. On the other hand, if we try to look for a reason "why" such tragedies have fallen on the Japanese (and of course, you can fill in the blanks with whichever nationality of group you wish: there are many we never hear of) we are bound to come up short. Does "God" punish children, babies ...dogs, innocent men and women for their so-called superficial lifestyle? If so, we'd better all watch out. Would you, personally, want anything to do with a God that launched such a biblical outpouring of fury? I thought that Zeus had gone into retirement, and I hoped that Jehovah was keeping him company.

Whether we can attribute cause to God or apportion blame to those unfortunate people who experience "His" vengeance, the degree of horror associated with the tsunami and even now as I write, the doubt expressed in the extent of truth that is being allowed speech as far as the condition of the reactors is concerned, has caused all of us to stop and examine our own understanding of morality and mortality.

I think that what has remained with me all week is the first helicopter footage showing the speed with which the tsunami made its way inland. For me, it was seeing those people in their cars out on the highway going about their business not knowing that everything familiar in their world was about to go into a tailspin. It was looking at that white car, metres from the wall of water bearing down upon them, halt, turn to go in the other direction and seemingly stop on the verge of the road. What was going on in the minds of the people inside? Did they make it? Did their loved ones? Did they have a home to return to?

Friedrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil seems to be claiming in the following quote that we over-reach ourselves in our desires and that what formerly was a blessing now has become a burden.

"That which an age feels to be evil is usually an untimely after-echo of that which was formerly felt to be good - the atavism of an older ideal."

Perhaps the Japanese have allowed themselves to slip away from the simple things. Perhaps we all have. Look around you: do you really need that, or this, or the other? Does it really add anything to you, as a person? Are we over-reaching ourselves as we widen the gap between the rich and the poor? Do we somehow believe that we have that right, just because we happen to born "here" and not "there"? Perhaps it is this which makes a disaster such as this one in modern, industrialised Japan seem so much more horrific than if it happens in Mongolia or some island chain: after all, we are the "developed" nations: don't we buy security from the ire of Nature?

No, I don't think that God has anything to do with this. Perhaps it is simply "bad luck". More likely the more recent seismic activity has something to do with the extraordinary number of sun spots and the gigantic solar flares that have been observed lately. Certainly these will have been affecting the earth's magnetic field. That's enough to give our planet the belly ache. The heavenly bodies do affect our planet, and that has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in astrology!

The biggest problem is that we somehow believe that the planet is here to serve us and we forget - to our sorrow - that we are tenants only, living on a crust so thin and so vulnerable that at any abrupt moment the seething mass underneath which is the true substance of our planet may remind us that really, life - any life - counts for very, very little to it.

If that is God speaking, I'll buy it. But I always hoped - vain hope I know - that God was somehow more than just the laws of physics.

Sorry if this is rambling, but I cannot apply much logic to those pictures I have been seeing these past 7 days.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Big Bluebird is Watching You…

Every now and then on this blog I have a little rant. It’s my blog, and I’ll rant if I want to. If you don’t want to read about me ranting, then come back next week when I shall return to being all sweetness and light.

Right. You’re still here aren’t you? Good, because what I am about to talk about will offend everyone from the civil rights movement to the animal protection league.

It seems that the American government has spent a no doubt proportionately ridiculous amount on developing little spy planes designed to look like hummingbirds.

Yes, you read it right. If that is not enough, they are also working on mechanical drones to look like insects and even maple leaf seeds.

I kid you not.

And if that is not enough, they are also fooling around with the idea of implanting surveillance equipment into real insects as they are undergoing metamorphosis. The only aspect of this which seems to be bothering the folks at the Pentagon is that these little guys might interfere with aircraft. Oh and the "legal implications".

This makes me Very Mad Indeed.

But, enough about me, let’s talk about them for a minute. Here’s the Associated Press article in its entirety. It’s worth reading all the way through… (The Silly Comments in bold are, of course, mine.)

AP: The Pentagon has poured millions of dollars into the development of tiny drones inspired by biology, each equipped with video and audio equipment that can record sights and sounds.

They could be used to spy, but also to locate people inside earthquake-crumpled buildings and detect hazardous chemical leaks.

The smaller, the better.

Besides the hummingbird, engineers in the growing unmanned aircraft industry are working on drones that look like insects and the helicopter-like maple leaf seed.

Researchers are even exploring ways to implant surveillance and other equipment into an insect as it is undergoing metamorphosis. They want to be able to control the creature.

The devices could end up being used by police officers and firefighters.
Their potential use outside of battle zones, however, is raising questions about privacy and the dangers of the winged creatures buzzing around in the same skies as aircraft.

For now, most of these devices are just inspiring awe.

With a 6.5-inch wing span, the remote-controlled bird weighs less than a AA battery and can fly at speeds of up to 11 mph, propelled only by the flapping of its two wings. A tiny video camera sits in its belly.

The bird can climb and descend vertically, fly sideways, forward and backward. It can rotate clockwise and counterclockwise.

Most of all it can hover and perch on a window ledge while it gathers intelligence, unbeknownst to the enemy.

(Emphasis mine... That's it! The bird feeder has GOT to go.)

"We were almost laughing out of being scared because we had signed up to do this," said Matt Keennon, senior project engineer of California's AeroVironment, which built the hummingbird.

The Pentagon asked them to develop a pocket-sized aircraft for surveillance and reconnaissance that mimicked biology. It could be anything, they said, from a dragonfly to a hummingbird.

Five years and $4 million later, the company has developed what it calls the world's first hummingbird spy plane.

"It was very daunting up front and remained that way for quite some time into the project," he said, after the drone blew by his head and landed on his hand during a media demonstration.

The toughest challenges were building a tiny vehicle that can fly for a prolonged period and be controlled or control itself.

AeroVironment has a history of developing such aircraft.

Over the decades, the Monrovia, Calif.-based company has developed everything from a flying mechanical reptile to a hydrogen-powered plane capable of flying in the stratosphere and surveying an area larger than Afghanistan at one glance.

It has become a leader in the hand-launched drone industry.

Troops fling a four-pound plane, called the Raven, into the air. They have come to rely on the real-time video it sends back, using it to locate roadside bombs or get a glimpse of what is happening over the next hill or around a corner. (Note: Edgar Allan Poe is saying from the grave: "See!")

The success of the hummingbird drone, however, "paves the way for a new generation of aircraft with the agility and appearance of small birds," said Todd Hylton of the Pentagon's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

These drones are not just birds.

Lockheed Martin has developed a fake maple leaf seed, or so-called whirly bird, loaded with navigation equipment and imaging sensors. The spy plane weighs .07 ounces.

On the far end of the research spectrum, DARPA is also exploring the possibility of implanting live insects during metamorphosis with video cameras or sensors and controlling them by applying electrical stimulation to their wings.

The idea is for the military to be able to send in a swarm of bugs loaded with spy gear.

The military is also eyeing other uses.

The drones could be sent in to search buildings in urban combat zones. Police are interested in using them, among other things, to detect a hazardous chemical leak. Firefighters could fling them out over a disaster to get better data, quickly.

It is hard to tell what, if anything, will make it out of the lab, but their emergence presents challenges and not just with physics.

What are the legal implications, especially with interest among police in using tiny drones for surveillance, and their potential to invade people's privacy, asks Peter W. Singer, author of the book, "Wired for War" about robotic warfare.

Singer said these questions will be increasingly discussed as robotics become a greater part of everyday life.

"It's the equivalent to the advent of the printing press, the computer, gun powder," he said. "It's that scale of change."

I suppose that what really angered me about this development in robotics was not so much the invasion of privacy (there is far more out there than any of us wee mortal folk will ever know), but the fact that humans could sully nature so much that in order to re-create it we have to use it for our own violent ends. Can you imagine looking at a Blue Morpho Butterfly, or an Owl Butterfly and wondering: Friend or Foe?

I mean really… meddling Monarchs, snooping Salamanders, and terrorist Termites?

Holy Preying Mantis (sic), Batman!

But of course, the article offers by way of reasonable explanation, these drones can be used to BENEFIT humankind. Instead of sniffer dogs in earthquakes, man’s best friend could be a fully automated sparrow. Firemen could keep Great Spotted Whatnots as pets and save on the cost of Dalmatian food. It’s all very practical really and who wouldn’t love to be rescued by a hummingbird?

And you wondered where all the bees had gone…

Tuesday 1 March 2011

The Camino: Lessons for Life...?

I mentioned this a few days ago in a post about The Universe. Several people have asked me to repeat it so here it is. Every day I find its lessons more and more relevant to how I want to see life, and perhaps to how I want to be seen.

Here is the original post from August 2009 post Camino Portuguese:

Insights and a Serious Attempt at Introspection...

What have I truly learned from this Camino?

I have learned, once again, that the Camino is a microcosm of the world that could be. Those who have walked it, (or within whatever transport they took it) already know this. Those who have yet to experience it, will, in one way or another learn this: that much is guaranteed.

I have learned as the I Ching counsels “not to put too much trust into those with whom we have recently become acquainted”: sad but true.

I have learned that there are angels on the Camino. Usually where you least expect them (and I am still not totally convinced about angels anyway.)

I have learned to ask for what you truly need, for it will be provided.

I have learned that sometimes we are too hard on ourselves.

I have learned that the distance is not something we need to really concern ourselves with: it is about putting one foot in front of the other.

I have learned that blisters go away; in fact most annoying things go away eventually.

I have learned that you can speak Spanish in Portugal and be more or less understood, but that you may not have the slightest idea of the response believe me, it doesn’t really matter, the Portuguese are the most helpful people on earth.

I have learned that parrots have a sense of humour, pigeons don't like peanuts, and that I can raise swallows from the dead.

I have learned that sometimes I have to let myself be taken care of.

I have learned that what “the church” has told you is very much open to question.

I have learned to open myself up to others: if you can master this you may find that the ones around you can help you move further upon your journey. This, I have found, is very important.

A corollary to the above would be not to let a moment pass by: sometimes an instinct which says “Do this Now!” can lead to contacts which can help you further your quest I was to find this time and again...: There is no such thing as “luck”.

I have learned that I am quite content with my own company, especially in the rain.

I have learned that most of the times the things that annoy us are part of ourselves and anyway, they don’t count for much in the overall scheme of thing. Learn to forgive and forget. see http://www.headstartcentres.org

I have learned that whatever religious path you may have been taught we all come together in the most fundamental things.

I have learned that life is a beautiful gift: you only have to open your eyes to the “ordinary”and accept it to recognise how lucky you really are.

Perhaps most of all, I have learned that I need to wage war against “righteous indignation”: those moments when the world provides us with idiots and you know you are right. It is easily spotted: it begins with these words:...they should..., why don’t they... you would think that they... it’s not right that...But it’s counter-productive and only increases the frustration. I’m working very hard on a Live and Let Live philosophy. But it’s not always so easy.

Now 18 months later I find myself wondering what I would add to this. I was asked a couple of days ago what my "objectives" in life were. The question pulled me up short. I answered: To maintain a reasonable level of contentment.

But is that it? It's easily misconstrued. It is not that I want to lack challenges: far from it! It isn't that I want to lead a dull, uneventful, unproductive life. Heaven forbid. What I want is to see each opportunity as a challenge to take me further and further to my own core of contentment; accepting what "the Universe" provides as steps to an eventual realisation of exactly what and who I am, and by that implication, I suppose, exactly "who" and "what" God is.

I've mistakenly fought for it, and missed it by looking too hard...now I just want it to manifest itself in everything I do: the hard and the simple; the extrasensory and the very, very ordinary.

Socrates said: "The unexamined life is not worth living". Perhaps. But I would rather say that the unlived life is not worth examining.

I would rather live life ... and examine trees.