UpdatesPosted by C. John Sat, October 20, 2012 08:53:08
Despite the title, this is not a wind-up. It’s a true story about a walk in Scotland in August this year.
We were visiting my wife’s extended family in a gathering to celebrate her sister’s birthday. Her Dad is doing pretty well for a man in his early eighties and he decided to join us in a relatively easy walk to the Green Loch, close to the Cairngorm mountains. Unfortunately, whilst we four adults had visited the Loch before, it was probably twenty years since any of us had done this journey. We did take advice from the tourist information who instructed us to follow the path marked with blue posts. After the challenge of finding somewhere to park we set off following the blue trail. That is, until we came to a fork in the track where the markers plunged off down a small path to the right leaving the main track to go on ahead. My wife and her Dad were pretty convinced the main track ahead was the way to go. My sense of direction gene is seriously corrupted and so my opinion was not solicited. However, I am capable of retracing a single track, and so volunteered to go back to the car. There at least we had a large scale map which would be better than nothing.
About halfway back I met a group coming in the opposite direction. I wondered about asking them for help when the leading man, equipped with a map in hand, greeted me with a cheery salutation--as you do in the mountains. I seized the opportunity and asked if I could look at his map and explained our dilemma. This was no problem, and we looked together at the map. He looked vaguely familiar, but I was sure we hadn’t met before. In his wake were traveling a shorter woman and a group of kids, one of whom was of Asian origin. Taking up the rear was a bearded guy who had a child on each arm and was happily swinging them.
The woman was very friendly and chatty and I confessed we were only visiting from Sweden and didn’t come here often because I wanted to put her at her ease as I was starting to have suspicions about who I was walking with. Her origin was difficult to place but the two guys were Scots. I looked at the bearded guy intermittently, wondering. Fairly quickly we caught up with my family who were still pondering the conflicting information.
“Is that your party ahead?” asked my new guide.
“Yes, that’s them.“
The two groups converged and the map reader engaged in cheerful discussion with the rest of the adults of our party. Due to my aforementioned short-comings, I held back. The bearded guy--who I was now studying intently--was occupying his children. By now I was fairly convinced who we had met up with, but then I was faced with another dilemma. Do you say anything or not? In the end I thought it best to leave him in peace. None of the rest of my family seemed to have clicked at all. And you never know how people will react in such circumstances, especially your children. In the end the deliberations of the party leaders resolved that the Green Loch lay on the wide road ahead but the other party were following the blue trail. So we separated and walked ahead.
When they were out of earshot, I turned and smiled at our group “It’s not every day that you meet someone famous, is it?”
“Who?” they all chorused. For the benefit of my children I replied, “Obi-wan Kenobi” to the adults “Ewan McGregor.”
My sister-in-law’s countenance immediately lit up, she was fairly convinced too. Later, a quick Google confirmed my hypothesis as we looked at photos of Ewan, his wife and his brother, Colin—an airforce pilot possibly based close by to the Cairngorms and the leader of their group. The Asian looking girl was Ewan’s adopted daughter from Mongolia. And since the family decamped to California several years ago, the statistical chance of this meeting was quite low. The only remaining mystery was did Ewan realize I recognized him or not?
Will our paths cross again? I doubt it- my name is not Luke and it is not my destiny!
UpdatesPosted by C. John Sun, August 12, 2012 21:54:54
Well a week overdue and a new post. And I turn to two curious incidents…
Firstly, the obvious one. What I promised for last Sunday, actually happened Monday morning European time. Curiosity successfully landed on Mars.
It was a fascinating experience. Often what carries the emotional impact of an event is not the incident itself, but how people react. Watching human mirrors responding to events often gives us a deeper connection to them. So it was with the Mars landing. What follows are my impressions from watching NASA TV live.
We were in the control room at the JPL and immediately I was thrown back to watching the moon landing-yes that old! Long rows of people engaged in keeping the spacecraft on track-mostly men, and a few women –but with a big range of age and appearance. And some evidence of ethnicity. From those looking like they’re in their 30’s (and with suitably trendy haircuts) to many greyed or balding individuals or even one greying ‘hippy’ with long hair and a full beard.
As events unfold and reports come in from the different control stations there is polite applause as each step is successfully negotiated by the ship.
The concentration and tension mount as the spacecraft enters the atmosphere and has to do the various complicated somersaults to set the one ton landing rover on the surface. A picture of scientists at work: methodical, with carefully controlled actions and precise reporting one to the other.
Then Curiosity successfully lands.
And there is complete pandemonium.
The whole control room is an explosion of human emotion. They are on their feet in seconds, embracing, cheering, screaming and shouting. I was quite prepared to see the odd somersault too.
The human mirrors faithfully reflect the magnitude of the event.
As a new phase in space exploration was beginning, an old one ended-- and with it a curious omission.
Sir Bernard Lovell
Sir Bernard Lovell, father of the Jodrell Bank telescope and pioneer in radio astronomy passed away at the age of nearly 99. As a youngster my brother and I were dispatched to Cheshire during the school holidays to stay with family friends in a big house in the countryside. Two things left a lasting impression: Jodrell Bank and Manchester Airport.
There was good coverage in the media and much celebration of his life, achievements and his contribution to science. A Hero of Science: the media loves a Hero of Science. We live in an Age of Science, and rationality. Superstition is banished (except in newspaper horoscopes-- and anything that will sell copy or get good viewing figures).
Wikipedia reports in its entry Lovell’s all-round interests : a scientist that can engage with the Arts too. He loved music and played the church organ. But it hints at “An inconvenient truth…”, a church organ A deeper dig with Google will reveal passages like this from a book on the Big Bang Theory*—“Astronomer Bernard Lovell, for example, a devout Christian, believed that continuous creation of matter required by the theory, was as good a sign of God’s activity as any-” Whoops! Well, of course a Hero of Science cannot believe in God, it just doesn’t fit, so it’s best to bury the fact and not mention it at all. If it’s not in Wikipedia and the media hasn’t reported it, it has no material presence in this universe.
The other inconvenient truth is, of course, the fact that the huge investment to find evidence of life (at least at some time) on Mars-- which rests on Curiosity’s strong metal back-- might draw a blank, as other ventures have.
Notwithstanding Life on Mars, the excitement of Curiosity for me, along with the practicing science itself, is in the journey. As a scientist I am both detective and explorer in a world without previous human footprints. As Richard Feyman said “It’s the joy of finding out..” Hopefully this time people (especially high impact scientific journals) will be a little more circumspect about interpreting microscope rock formations as bacteria. But when you want to believe in something enough…
In complete contrast the next entry will be entitled “Obi-wan Kenobi and the Quest for the Green Loch “- a true story and nothing to do with fan fiction at all. Really! Until then…
*The Big Bang theory. What it is. Where it came from. And why it works Karen C. Fox (2002) p 84, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
UpdatesPosted by C. John Fri, August 03, 2012 22:38:26
In the beginning was the word...
This is not, in fact, a biblical allusion, but an admission that in the absence of a finished website, words are all I can give you
The name of the blog is Början, which is Swedish, and means the beginning. Chosen because although British, I am a permanent resident of Sweden.
I promised myself (and others) that the opening of the website would coincide with my first professional fiction sale. That has yet to happen, but off-stage things are moving. And as Curiosity nears its final destination, I have a feeling in my bones...
I wondered about a picture for the blog. What better for a science fiction writer than the above. Yours truly stands in its shadow, literally and metaphorically. With my breathing helmet on, so I can survive in the earth's atmosphere. Most SF writers are not from around here...
There will be more shortly. Sunday perhaps, now what was happening on Sunday? Maybe you are as curious as I am, and maybe David Bowie gets an answer to his song?
Footnote: At the moment comments are not activated. If you would like to respond to the blog please mail firstname.lastname@example.org, I promise to read all mails, however I may not be able to respond to each one individually.