My Blog

What a Bloody Awful Website!

I am told that all good websites should have a clear idea of their intended purpose and remain tightly focused and true to that purpose. By that definition, dear reader,  you have just landed on a bloody awful website.  Fortunately, I am unlikely to lose sales because this is not a commercial website. This is very much a personal website whose primary purpose is to learn how to build a website.

I long ago learned that the best way to learn anything is to do it and that the best thing a teacher can do is get out of the way and give the student space to learn. All the best teachers give their students permission to make mistakes,  they interfere with reluctance and only when a mistake is judged as too dangerous  or perhaps too expensive to allow it to continue.

On this website, I am both student and teacher and I hereby grant myself permission to screw up as much as is necessary to get the job done. To quote my old woodwork teacher: “The man who never made a mistake never made fuck-all.”

The Blog

This website  contains my own personal blog. I joined Facebook a few years ago and I developed a taste for expressing my opinion from time to time on this or that subject. A few of the less ridiculous of those posts have been extracted and preserved in my blog for a reluctant posterity.

I have found that WordPress, with its excellent blog support provides an excellent means of archiving files of all kinds.

The French Connection

This website concerns itself with the French language, it contains facts about the french language and its often surprisingly close relationship with the English language.

I am not a native French speaker, but my wife is French and I have studied her language for many years.  I do not pretend to be fluent in French and I am certainly no linguist but I have learned a few things here and there and I would like to share some insights that others might find useful. Here is a taste!

I will be adding additional French language stuff from time to time.

The Photos

I just learned how to add photos: to view or download my photos select Photos in the menu bar or just click here.

Moi

I live in sunny Australia  these days though I was born under the leaden skies of the North of England.  I really didn’t care that much for the English weather and I never really got used to it. A move south to London improved my social life but the weather was as bad as ever. One year it got really cold, the miners went on strike and all the lights went out. Not for nothing  was it was called the “winter of discontent”. There really didn’t seem much point in staying any longer; what with having lost the empire on top of the weather being so bad, so I moved to Australia and I have been here ever since.

I was once an engineer. I worked for the British Post Office and was fortunate enough to work at their research establishment at Dollis Hill. A fit of madness drove me to get into the  Marine Seismic game. Sanity eventually returned after 20 years or so and I finished up in a 3D modelling and animation business from which I eventually retired.

If you think you know me or you would like to get in touch for some other reason, go to my contact page and drop me a line.  If you are trying to reestablish contact, you should include some item of information that identifies you and is likely to jog my memory of you. No Trolls please.

Caution

A cautionary note, I can be opinionated at times, I believe profoundly in my right to free speech and in the right of others to disagree with me. I oppose the idea that anyone has the right not to be offended.

A quote from Richard Dawkins, quoting the editor of Scientific American puts my position succinctly: “Science is interesting and if you don’t agree you can fuck off” 

Shithole

Three posts dropped on my Facebook timeline today; they contained the following text:

1. “Dick Durbin the lying POS who made up the “Sh!thole” story and started the Sh!tstorm.”
2. “Tonight we skip the tremendous growing economy and go to a bad word Trump said”
3. “I think it’s adorable people are offended by trump saying shithole i’m offended by people wearing vagina hats i’m offended by men going into women’s bathrooms i’m offended by people who disrespect our flag etc etc (full text below)

I am less and less inclined to respond to this sort of nonesense but by the vagaries of Facebook’s prioretization algoriths, these three posts arrived consecutively on my timeline despite having divergent time stamps.

The first post is a classic “shoot the messanger” defense in which Senator Durbin is accused of being a lying POS (piece of shit I would guess) this could have been dismissed as a he said she said thing were it not for the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham confirming his Democratic colleague’s version of what Trump said.

The remaining two posts arriving on my timeline indicate a belief that Trump did indeed say “Shithole” because rather than denying that Trump referred to countries in Africa as “Shithole countries” they acknowledge that he said it but claim the controversy is over the word rather than the racist context in which the word was used. This is the same distraction tactic used to divert attention from Trump’s confession of sexual molestation to a mere bagatelle over his use of the word pussy.

No wonder Trump’s supporters are confused when their leader can’t keep his story straight; he doesn’t know if he should brag about his racisism or his misogyny or to deny it so he does both and forces his poor benighted supporters to do the same.

Full text of post #3
“I think it’s adorable people are offended by trump saying shithole i’m offended by people wearing vagina hats i’m offended by men going into women’s bathrooms i’m offended by people who disrespect our flag i’m offended by illegal aliens getting my tax money i’m offended how corrupt our politicians are i’m offended by how ignorant hollywood is i’m offended by racist groups like blm and kkk i’m offended by illegal immigrants that come here and don’t work i’m offended by our universities that are run by socialist fascists i’m offended that hillary has gotten away being a cheat liar corrupt felon i’m offended by our ghettos built and managed by democrats for votes i’m just getting started but you get the idea”

Schadenfreude

Trump may have problems attracting Norwegians because:

Norway has higher life expectancy at birth than the U.S., lower rates of infant mortality, low unemployment, and access to the European Union’s labor market (though it’s not an EU member).

Additionally, Norway is the world’s happiest country (the U.S. ranks 14), the place with the most political freedom (the U.S. ranks 45), most press freedom (the U.S. ranks 43rd), and most prosperity (the U.S. ranks 18). Simply put, there’s little economic incentive for Norwegians to immigrate to the U.S.

That’s true not just of Norway, but of all Western European countries that have become more prosperous over the past several decades.

European immigration to the U.S. has fallen dramatically, and the place of European immigrants have been taken by those from Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Trump may just have to come to terms with the fact that compared to Norway and many other Western countries migration to USA would require too great a drop in living standards.

Meanwhile: I have been reading “Fire and Fury” ($14.93 on my trusty Kindle). I have no way of evaluating the veracity of claims made in the book other than noting that they are more or less consistent with the tone of statements made by Trump himself.
I can barely wait for the movie, meanwhile, I hear an audio version will be available soon.  Possibly read by Hillary Clinton.

A nice refreshing glass of schadenfreude anyone?

Data Fudging ?

In a galaxy far far away and long long ago in a remote place called Planet Houston I was teaching a general course on navigation. I was covering data adjustment, signal processing and navigation system calibration when one member of the class suggested that what I was teaching was “fudging the data”.

I asked a few questions and realized to my horror that several others in the class had clearly misunderstood the subject matter and agreed that data processing and standard data adjustment techniques were little more than sophisticated cheating techniques to get a desired result. Friedrich Carl Gauss  would turn in his grave.

The entire field of seismic exploration in the service of the search for oil rests on advanced data processing algorithms to extract meaningful information from vast amounts of extremely complex data. The view of some elements of my class was tantamount to believing the entire oil exploration business was built on a foundation of lies. By extension; they effectively believed that virtually all of scientific measurement and mathematics as applied to scientific data was little more than a farrago of chicanery and falsehoods. I was gob smacked.

Shit! What to do?

I decided right then and right there to add a little remedial math(s) to the navigation course because it seemed to me that my entire syllabus was a waste of time if its foundations were so badly undermined by misunderstandings and frightening mathematical ignorance.

I have seen many posts and articles recently that deny climate change and use seemingly legitimate arguments to do so. One of the most common is to show that supposedly conniving, cheating scientists have falsified temperature data in the interests of their hysterical and dishonest claims about climate change. This is the same mathematical and scientific ignorance exhibited by a few of my students several decades ago except that this time the future of the planet is at stake.

There isn’t space here to do a remedial maths or science course but perhaps a simple example might serve to illustrate the scientific necessity for measurement adjustments and data processing before using raw data to more closely determine scientific truths.

Imagine, if you will, a world wide project to determine the average height of five year old children around the world. All measurements are to be made with metal measurement tapes and the results sent to a central point for collation. Simple! What could possibly go wrong?

So all results are collected and the average height of 5 year old kids is calculated by adding all the heights and dividing by the number of kids. So far so good.

Then some curious social worker wonders if the average height of a 5 year old varies from one place to another. The results are recomputed for each geographical area and it turns out that there are variations. Why?

Some smart-arse scientist recognizes that since the measurements were made with metal tapes and all metal expands with increasing temperature, the kids measured in hot climates such as northern Australia would seem to be shorter than kids measured in the Arctic conditions of northern Canada.

Fortunately all height measurements were submitted with location and temperature data thus allowing the entire data set to be corrected for temperature variations.

Then some super nit picky awkward bugger asks “are all the steel tapes identical ?” The tapes are recalled and it transpires that one batch of measuring tapes were 2 mm short due to a manufacturing error. All measurements made with these tapes can be corrected by adding 2 mm to all heights.

Get the picture? All measurements and all data sets contain errors of one sort or another; offsets, biases, scaling errors, random noise and even mistakes. The art of measurement and the scientific use of measurements is to detect and eliminate those errors. Better results from older data can be obtained over time by applying better techniques and corrections for errors that might not have been known at the time of the original measurements.

So it is with measuring the heights of children and so it is with measuring global temperatures. Refining temperature data in the light of new knowledge is not fudging, it is good science.

Muslims and Confederates

Muslims have fought in all major US wars including the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. More recently they have served in Gulf War, Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan. There are 5,896 self-identified Muslims currently serving in the military, according to the Department of Defense.

I suppose the Muslims get their float because they earned it by fighting with the armed forces of the USA.

Perhaps the veterans who fought under the Confederate flag don’t get a float because they fought against the United States of America.

Perhaps no Confederate veterans have applied for a float because all the Confederate veterans are dead now as opposed to the 3,550 Muslim soldiers currently serving in the US army or the 1,036 Muslim sailors serving in the US Navy or the 765 Muslim Airmen currently serving in the US Airforce or the 545 Muslims serving in the US Marines who are all very much alive serving their country and protecting their fellow Americans.

Perhaps you should thank them for their service and perhaps salute their representatives as their float passes by.

Liar Liar!

Liar Liar Pants on Fire.

President Donald Trump has long been accused of telling porky pies by his political opponents and even his Republican allies in Congress have occasionally admitted to his being being economical with the truth.

The Whitehouse has always stood by their leader, to a man (and now woman)they have aggressively denied that any of his statements contain anything other than the truth or that they were meant as a joke or were a form of sarcasm too sophisticated for his silly detractors to understand.

The frequent accusations of “Liar Liar Pants on Fire” directed at the President have consistently fallen on stony ground until now. C-SPAN have unwittingly revealed evidence of his difficulties with the truth.

The Secret Service have become so concerned with the clear and present danger of Trump coming to a fiery end from lie induced spontaneous pants combustion (LISPC) that his armed escort is now permanently supplemented by a fire truck.

The fire truck stands ready to literally cover his presidential lying ass, a function Sarah Elizabeth Huckabee Sanders has long been fulfilling in a more metaphorical sense.

Dragon Theory of Global Warming

Climate Dragon

I can not take full credit for this innovative line of inquiry into the causes of Global Warming. The idea was proposed by a colleague during the course of a vigorous debate concerning orbital variations of the earth and their linkage to cyclical ice ages and current global warming observations.

The sugestion that global warming is caused primarily by dragons is an interesting one and ought not to be dismissed out of hand.

There are those who do not believe that dragons even exist but that opinion is based solely on the flawed evidence that they have never seen a dragon. This is clearly the kind of narrow minded, short sighted, unimaginative thinking so typical of those smug bubble dwelling liberals. Many natural phenomena are known to exist in spite of their lack of a signature in the visible portion of the electro magnetic spectrum. See Lancelot et al.

All animals, including us and presumably dragons too, exhale CO2 and collectively the amounts are staggering. Human beings alone exhale around 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. But here’s the thing; the carbon exhaled by all animals, including dragons, is the same carbon that was “inhaled” from the atmosphere by the plants they consumed.

This is just as true of carnivores; when we eat meat, we’re still eating the same carbon processed by plants, except that it reaches us after detouring through livestock or edible prey.

The only way to add to the carbon in the atmosphere is to take it from a sequestered source like fossil fuels, and burn it. Now animals are not known to eat coal and neither do they drink oil so they can not be the source of additional CO2 in the atmosphere. Or can they?

Might there be an exception to the lack of observations of carbon consuming fauna? Animals do not normally breath out fire but dragons do. What is the source of that fiery exhalation? Perhaps dragons do eat coal, perhaps they quench their thirst on vast hidden lakes of oil. This could be the key to our future survival. Funds must be allocated immediately to dragon research, we need to locate the dragons and study their metabolisms. Finding their feeding grounds may be the answer to vast new sources of energy without resorting to problematic seismic exploration and drilling.

A good place to start intensive dragon research might be near the sea bounding that misty island of Honnah Lee.

 

What Happened to the Ice Age

Earth Orbit Vs Climate

When I was a kid (in the 50s and 60s), people talked about Earth cooling rather than warming so much so that when I first heard about Global Warming causing Climate change I was confused as I wondered what had happened to those predictions of a looming Ice Age.

The climate changes in response to some external change or forcing. These forcings include changes in the intensity of the sun’s radiation, volcanic eruptions, rapid releases of greenhouse gases, and changes in Earth’s orbit.

The biggest climate changes in the past 800,000 years have been the ice-age cycles. These ice-age cycles are the result of slow changes in Earth’s orbit which alter the way the Sun’s energy is distributed on the Earth’s surface as a function of latitude and season.

Interestingly; in the absence of human-caused global warming, Earth’s current orbital changes would actually be cooling the planet. A 2009 study in the journal Science, “Recent Warming Reverses Long-Term Arctic Cooling,” found that prior to approximately 1900, the Arctic had been slowly cooling for some 2000 years, which was replaced by rapid warming only in the last century or so, driven by carbon pollution.

In the last 35 years of global warming, the sun and the climate have been going in opposite directions with the sun actually showing a slight cooling trend.

Carbon dioxide levels in the air have now passed 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time the Earth’s atmosphere was at 400 ppm of CO 2 was a few million years ago, long before Homo sapiens roamed the Earth. Back then, the climate was 2°C (3.6°F) to 3°C (5.4°F) above preindustrial temperatures, and sea level was some 15–25 meters (50–80 feet) above modern levels.

The world’s top scientists are confident that humans are responsible for so much of the warming because most of the naturally occurring forcings that affect global temperature would tend to be cooling the Earth rather than warming it.

To be perfectly clear: in the absence of human activity, the planet would likely have cooled in recent decades.

The sun’s level of activity tends to have a modest, cyclical impact on global temperatures but we have seen “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century.

Volcanic activity in recent decades has released particles that partially block the sun and also serve to cool the planet slightly.

Finally, the underlying long-term temperature trend for the Earth as a function of changes in our orbit has been a very slow cooling.

Human activity has overwhelmed all of these trends and completely ended any speculations about a possible future ice age any time soon.

If facts don’t work, you can always try humor: click for the Dragon Theory of Climate Change

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

ANZAC troops bound for Gallipoli

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is a song written by Scottish-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971.

The song describes war as futile and gruesome, while criticizing those who seek to glorify it. The story is told through the experiences of a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War.

The song  concludes with the melody and a few lines from the 1895 song Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson.

The song has been covered and recorded many times, perhaps most notably by John Williamson but my favorite version is performed by John McDermott. This is the original Eric Bogle version.

The song has been praised for its imagery, evoking the devastation at the Gallipoli Landings. The protagonist, who had traveled across rural Australia before the war, is emotionally devastated by the loss of his legs in battle. As the years pass he notes the death of other veterans, while the younger generation becomes apathetic to the veterans and their cause.

Full Lyrics

Now when I was a young man, I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in 1915, my country said “son
It’s time you stopped rambling, there’s work to be done”
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun
And they marched me away to the war

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As the ship pulled away from the quay
And amidst all the cheers, the flag-waving and tears
We sailed off for Gallipoli

And how well I remember that terrible day
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And of how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk, he was waiting, he’d primed himself well
He showered us with bullets and he rained us with shell
And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia

But the band played Waltzing Matilda
When we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again

And those that were left, well we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead
Never knew there was worse things than dyin’

For I’ll go no more waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and free
To hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The legless, the armless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve, to mourn, and to pity

But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then they turned all their faces away

And so now every April, I sit on me porch
And I watch the parades pass before me
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reviving old dreams of past glories
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “what are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question

But the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Someday no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard
As they march by that billabong
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

You might like to listen to the song “I Was Only 19” which has has similar themes.

I Was Only 19

I Was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen (or ‘A Walk Through The Green Light‘) is a folk song  written by John Schumann of  the Australian band Redgum. The song was released as a single by  Redgum in 1983, and stayed as number one in the charts for   two weeks.

The song gives an account of the experiences of an  Australian soldier fighting in the Vietnam War.  Listen to the song here.

The song has transcended the Vietnam War and has become an Australian icon for the tragedy of all wars.

Complete Lyrics

Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing out parade at Puckapunyal
It was a long march from cadets
The sixth battalion was the next to tour and it was me who drew the card
We did Canungra and Shoalwater before we left

And Townsville lined the footpaths as we marched down to the quay
This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean
And there’s me in me slouch hat with me SLR and greens
God help me – I was only nineteen

From Vung Tau riding Chinooks to the dust at Nui Dat
I’d been in and out of choppers now for months
And we made our tents a home, V.B. and pinups on the lockers
And an Asian orange sunset through the scrub

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what’s this rash that comes and goescan you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only nineteen

A four week operation, when each step can mean your last one on two legs
It was a war within yourself
But you wouldn’t let your mates down ’til they had you dusted off
So you closed your eyes and thought about somethin’ else

And then someone yelled out “Contact”, and the bloke behind me swore
We hooked in there for hours
then a God almighty roar
And Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon
God help me – he was goin’ home in June

And I can still see Frankie, drinkin’ tinnies in the Grand Hotel
On a thirty-six hour rec. leave in Vung Tau
And I can still hear Frankie, lying screaming in the jungle
‘Til the morphine came and killed the bloody row

And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel
God help me, I was only 19

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
Any why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me – I was only 19

War Memorials

War Memorials

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Paris and the eternal flame rekindled every night

War memorials are a commonplace in the countries I have lived in: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, The United States of America, Canada and Australia. Lots of wars spawn many war memorials and all the countries I have lived in have long histories of warfare; sometimes fighting alone, sometimes fighting as allies and occasionally even fighting against each other.

There are essentially two kinds of war memorial; those that simply commemorate the fallen and those that glorify some individual participant. I would shed no tears if all the countless statues of generals and their horses were consigned to cemeteries and museums or even broken up. Their histories, glorious or otherwise, will live on in rival history books written from this or that point of view.

General Robert Edward Lee
General Robert Edward Lee

The memorials to the fallen are an altogether different matter. When new, these enumerations in stone serve as a community’s thanks for the sacrifice of the individual soldiers and their still grieving families. As a war fades into history and slips beyond living memory these lists of the dead become fitting reminders of the terrible cost of war.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. not only honors service members who died in service in Vietnam/South East Asia, it honors too all those U.S. service members who fought in the Vietnam War, and those service members who were unaccounted for (Missing In Action) during the War.

Less well known than the Washington Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a memorial to the fallen in Australia’s wars. King’s Park in my adopted home town of Perth has a conventional Cenotaph in stone and marble but a less obvious, yet infinitely more touching memorial is the park itself.

Avenues criss-cross the park, but look a little closer. At the foot of each tree, lining those avenues, is a simple plaque. Each plaque honors an Australian soldier who didn’t come home. Look even closer, look at their ages so many didn’t even make their 20th birthday.

Most war memorials barely move me but this one does, even now as I write this. So you can keep your statues of generals and perhaps consider giving every soldier a tree. You will need a lot of trees though, there are a lot of trees in King’s Park.

Eric Pickstone