Monday, August 31, 2009

Concert: More New Music


Mike Crowl will be presenting a second collection of his recent compositions - songs, piano pieces, and music for cornet and piano - at the Mornington Methodist Hall, in Dunedin, on Saturday the 12th September, at 7.30 pm.

Admission $10.00 per person - sorry, no eftpos available, but supper is included.

Several of the pieces will be receiving their world premieres, including a group of eight short songs set to words by the nationally renowned Dunedin poet, Peter Olds.

John Lewis, the champion New Zealand and Australian cornet player, will be performing two pieces specially written for him.

Other artists include: Nicola Steel, Helen & Justin Scott, Arnold Bachop, Cara Thomson, and Nadine Kemp.

Piano courtesy of

Expert Opinions

Thomas Kuhn, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, described ‘normal science’ as, “a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by a professional education” (Kuhn, 1970, p.5). He says, further:

“Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like. Much of the success of the enterprise derives from the community’s willingness to defend that assumption, if necessary at considerable cost.” (Kuhn, 1970, p.5)

Quoted by Stuart Birks in an article entitled, Should We Believe the Experts? (Stuart Birks is the director of the Centre for Public Policy Evaluation at Massey University, Palmerston North. He is an economist with a focus on policy formulation and implementation.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Truman Show

I don't think I've seen The Truman Show again since it first came out in 1998; certainly only the basic story had stuck with me, and the fact that it was an excellent movie. I hadn't realised that not only was the director an Australian, (Peter Weir) but the scriptwriter (who wanted to direct it, but was regarded as too inexperienced for the size of the budget) was a New Zealander, Andrew Niccol (pictured at left). And our old friend, Philip Glass, he of the tendency to compose music that appears to go nowhere, composed some of the music. In fact, I hadn't realised just how prolific a film composer Glass is. lists some 90 productions he's worked on. That's much more the Erich Korngold, who's much better known as a film composer, or Bernard Herrmann (who composed for several Hitchcock movies), who wrote for less than half the movies Glass has listed.

The Truman Show is a satire on TV, but on its own that wouldn't be enough to have given it its class. Its deeper story is the struggle for a man to find his way out of the prison that's been made around him, to reach for the stars (even though in his case they're only fakes). Carrey gives a great performance in this movie, eschewing the over-the-top comedy that makes some of his other movies so successful (and makes others less than successful), and he's surrounded by a top-notch cast, many of whom have to perform as actors performing as other people throughout. Ed Harris is wonderful as the 'Creator' (a man who's got to the point of thinking he's virtually God); unfortunately this particular Creator has a streak of the devil in him.

Well worth seeing again.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hindemith - and my concerts

The following quote is from Paul Hindemith's autobiography, The Composers World:

“This life in and with music, being essentially a victory over external forces, and a final allegiance to spiritual sovereignty, can only be a life of humility, of giving one’s best to one’s fellow man. This gift will not be like the alms passed on to the beggar; it will be the sharing of a man’s every possession with his friend”.

I heard this on the Concert Programme last weekend (Hindemith was composer of the week) and thought it an interesting statement about being a composer. I've just been listening to the recording of the music that was presented at my first concert, back in late 2006. I haven't heard it for a while. It was recorded live, and there are occasional flaws (especially in the duet at the end) and some of the singers were under par (one was particularly unwell, as I discovered later - we rerecorded her music, in fact, at a later date). Some of the singing, however, comes as a surprise after this time: two of the young singers, Cally Hammond-Took, and Benjamin Kidd, did marvellous jobs with their songs.

My next concert is just round the corner: on the 12th Sept, about two weeks away. I don't feel as well prepared for this one, and neither are some of the singers. Colds and flu haven't helped. However, we'll make it. And the programme is as good as the last, if not better. It lacks the multimedia element we introduced last time, but that's okay. There's supper!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Coping with life - while having a cold

Since the Wednesday before last I've had another heavy cold. Not a man-cold, in case any of you ladies get on your usual high horses, but a real stinker, one that's had me coughing so hard that I can scarcely breathe, and has made my sinuses so sore that every time I blew my nose or sniffed over the last day or so, it feels like my head has been about to crack open.

Of course, all the women out there will be saying, man-cold, man-cold, as they always do. I'm not surprised men don't go to the doctor more readily; they get mocked at for being sick. Do us guys mock women for trying out the latest weight loss pills? We wouldn't think of it. So give us a break, women.

Anyway, in the middle of all this, I've also been accompanying one of the singers in the senior vocal competitions here in Dunedin - even made it into the finals of the Otago Daily Times Aria Competition. I also played on Saturday for one of the bandsmen at the Provincial Competitions at Mosgiel, and I've coped with a very important meeting at work, one in which at least two people were in tears, and strong words were spoken, and truth was finally allowed some breathing room. (Incidentally neither my singer or bandsman got up into the top placings this time around. Ce la vie.)

And today, as part of my continuing education through work, I attended the first day of the Calvin Conference. (We have another day tomorrow.) I found it interesting, but couldn't have sat through the whole day, even if I hadn't had to go to the doctor's. Apart from my bum getting sore after two or three hours sitting on a hard chair, my brain concentration just gives up eventually. I listened to Professor Randall Zackman, who talked about Calvin and the beauty of the Universe, and how it's a sign to us that God is speaking. But in fact his message, if it had been pared down to bare essentials, was basically good old fashioned Gospel - disguised, somewhat, as an academic lecture.

The next speaker was Jason Goroncy, who spoke on John Calvin: Servant of the Word. I'm hoping he'll put the paper up on his blog, as he spoke at considerable speed, and I had difficulty taking notes. Some moments of real passion emerged from his talk, perhaps to the surprise of his audience!

I left after lunch and went and went for a walk and some fresh air, Knox College being conveniently close to the Botanical Gardens. Finally I came back to listen to Kirstine Moffat, who spoke about Calvinism and New Zealand Literature. I enjoyed this, though it seemed slightly off on a tangent from the main topic of the Conference. However, good to have it there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Family history

Just posted a couple of items on the Hannagan family blog. Photos of my great grandfather on my grandmother's side; my grandfather (her husband); my father - or possibly my uncle - there seems to be a bit of dispute; and my father amidst a bunch of colleagues at the Australian Chess Championships in Adelaide, in 1960.

The photo of the chess players is probably historic, and would be more so if I could read my father's writing on the back successfully. It doesn't help that he uses lots of abbreviations, and many of the names aren't familiar to me. Nevertheless, I'm made an attempt to 'translate' it.

The blog doesn't get used a great deal - it relies on me to keep my relatives providing material for it, which they're mostly only keen to do when some new baby arrives on the scene, or when someone changes the pond filters on their pond - which happens fairly irregularly too. Actually I was in England when my brother-in-law changed the pond filters. Not a pleasant job. And his older brother has a complex system of pipes and drainage and filters and who knows what around his pond. He's the sort of person who'd invent something just for the sake of it.

Anyway, the reason I've posted those photos on the other site is that after all our renovations, we have several piles of papers waiting to be sorted - papers meaning anything from stuff that's really valuable, like the pack of photos I'm talking about, to newspaper clippings that no longer tell me why I kept them; from dot matrix print-outs of emails from the first year I was on the Net to reviews of books I've done.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Seven Dials Mystery

I read Agatha Christie's The Seven Dials Mystery over the last couple of days. The copy was originally my mother's, but I seemed to have taken it over at some point. I've never read it before, even though it's either been in this house or the house I was brought up in for years. (The edition came out in 1962, so the copy's probably that old). The book itself was first published in 1929, so it's fairly early in the canon, but not that early: a book with some of the same characters, The Secret of Chimneys, appeared five years earlier. (It's sometimes hard to gauge just how old some of the Christie stories now are.)

In this one (and presumably in its earlier companion piece) Christie uses a light-hearted style that's reminiscent of P G Wodehouse. She doesn't have quite the wit or wondrous use of language that Wodehouse can provide, but all in all, there are some funny moments, and some of the characters are just as daft as those in many of the Wodehouse books. This means, however, that when two of the young men are murdered quite early in the piece, there's not much sense of anything except frivolity. No one really gets very upset about the deaths.

The tone of the book is similar to some of the Christie short stories that my wife and I listened to while we were on holiday at the beginning of the year. They have two particular features: one is the humour, which isn't quite what you expect from Christie (some of her novels are quite dark), and the other is a sort of self-referencing, in which the characters often remark on how much like a story or a novel or a murder mystery the events happening to them are. In Seven Dials, Christie has various characters say that such and such a thing couldn't be happening, because that only happens in books. It's almost as if she's trying to see whether the reader will accept the absurdity of what's going on. Curiously, she gets away with it, time and again.

The plot is very involved (the section at Wyvern Abbey being perhaps the most complex) and the reader is expected to juggle a bundle of characters who apparently all have very different agendas. Some of these turn out to be red herrings, as you'd expect, and there's a good deal of double crossing of the reader on Christie's part. It's probable everything fits (there's a rather longwinded explanation section at the end) but who's going to go back and check it all out?

In general the thing fizzes along at a good pace; only towards the end is there a kind of speed bump, when things seem to go temporarily into hiatus before resuming normality again.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Age of Innocence

I've been off work with a cold - yet again - today. Second time in just a few weeks.

Anyway, I've been listening to an audio book version of The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. It's wonderfully ironic in its approach, with the authorial comments often undercutting the characters' thoughts and actions.

I remember seeing the film version back in the 90s. It was directed by Martin Scorcese, and doesn't seem to be one of his well-known movies, perhaps because it's the opposite of all the violent movies he's made. Here there's violence still, but it's all under the surface, and people speak and act as though they're treading on very thin ice at all times.

I don't remember much about the film except the wonderful narration by Joanne Woodward, who kind of stood in for Wharton. The narration frequently undermined what we saw on the screen, telling us things that we wouldn't have gauged for ourselves, and adding a depth of irony to the movie that the actors themselves might not have easily brought to it.

Must try and catch up with it again...!

Incidentally, the photo above strikes me as probably being out of tone with the movie, but not having seen it for 16 years, I may be wrong. Perhaps that scene does occur at some point.

When in Rome

I've never read any of Ngaio Marsh's murder mysteries before, though I think I began one many years ago and abandoned it before I'd read more than a few pages. Can't remember why, but think it was because it seemed at the time a bit dry.

However, the other day I picked up When in Rome for a couple of dollars, and found it to be very good and an enjoyable read. It was published in 1970, so it's a bit dated - in fact I suspect it was a bit dated when it was written. (The word 'gay' appears frequently with its older meaning, for instance, but there are other indications that Marsh was already writing in a style that was on its way out.) Nevertheless, the Sun is said to have written: The finest writer in English of the pure, classical puzzle whodunnit, at the time, as the cover tells us.

What is noticeable about it is the excellent style. Even if you didn't think much of the mystery side of it (and it's not bad) the stylish writing has to impress. None of your rubbishy adjective-less, adverb-less modern approach to writing, with no descriptions of scene or place beyond a few overused words. That was what really struck me about the Mary Higgins Clark I read recently: how impoverished the language was. For example, someone's chair was 'comfortable' - what does that tell us? Nothing about the chair or the person. Characters were 'dressed up' by the author only in the sense that she told us that so and so changed into something that you would expect the character to change into for whatever it was he or she was doing. Marsh, on the other hand, seldom tells us about clothing unless it's important to what's going on.

The story has two angles to it: Inspector Alleyn (Marsh's regular hero/detective) is in Rome at the behest of Interpol to deal with a drug-smuggling ring. He 'happens upon' a tour party that's slightly unusual and gets himself involved - and is on hand to deal with two murders as a result. The characters are a stock group, but they have subtlety within that - for instance the lovers not only have twenty years in age separating them, they spend a good deal more time irritated with each other than might be the norm.

Marsh wrote in the days when writers wrote and audiences enjoyed their writing. Along with Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Dorothy L. Sayers, Marsh was classed as one of the four original "Queens of Crime"—female British crime writers who dominated the crime fiction genre in the Golden Age of the 1920s and 1930s. She published 32 detective novels in all, between 1934 and 1982.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dropped a stone!

Turns out that the scales I used to weigh myself last night don't work well on carpet. Don't ask me, I only report on what I'm told.

So when they were shifted to a hard surface, I suddenly dropped a stone in weight: went from 13 stone (82 kilos) to 12 (76 kilos), which is much more normal for me in recent years. Phew! I still need to get some weight off below the stomach, where it seems all to have sunk to, but losing something from 12 stone is easier on the system than losing a lot from 13 stone.

Be good if I could get down to 11 (just under 70 kilos). That would be much closer to my old weight. Will keep you informed (if you're really interested, that is!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Natural Skin Care

I've decided to do some natural skin care, a euphemism for... going on a diet.

My concert is a month away, today, and on Sunday night my wife suggested that if I wanted to get into my suit then maybe I should lose a bit of weight before then. Helpfully, she and my younger son, who's living with us at present, are both doing it as well. We're doing a home-based version of Weight Watchers. My wife has all the booklets from previous stints with this company, so I'm afraid they're not getting any further income from us at this time.

The first day was agony. I had a carrot with me, chopped up into short slices, and must have eaten then constantly, particularly in the afternoon. I didn't just have a carrot, of course; my lunch was fine, and as good as anything I'd normally take - in fact probably a lot better, because for the first time in many years my wife made it for me.

I got to the end of the day and had run out of points, which was distressing.

However, the second day was quite different. It was as if my brain had reconciled itself to the fact that I was on a diet, and things were a lot calmer. I'd taken more carrot slices with me to supplement the lunch, but in fact hardly ate any of them. And today was better still.

So I might make it to the 12th of next month without totally fainting away from hunger.

PS I just checked my weight on my daughter's scales. Admittedly I've just eaten tea, so it's not a good time to weigh in, but I'm up to 13 stone, the heaviest I've ever been. When we were in England a couple of years ago, I was down below 12 stone after a time on Weight Watchers, but the two months at the beginning of this year, when I wasn't able to walk any distance comfortably (because of the catheter I was wearing due to prostate problems), really set me back, and I haven't managed to get the weight down since. And it's noticeable: only a couple of pairs of my trousers actually fit comfortably. Crikey!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Thinks he's the last suck of the mango!

I'm always interested in stuff to do with language, and how we use it, so was pleased when a friend sent me a link to a blog post in the Guardian called The Idiotic Joys of Idiom. The writer is Jag Bhalla who is apparently an amateur idiomologist and author of I'm Not Hanging Noodles on your Ears, a collection of over 1,000 idioms from 10 languages, published by National Geographic Books. Did you know there was such a thing as an idiomologist? My spellchecker certainly doesn't.

Anyway, the post lists a number of various curious sayings, pointing out that making idiomatic phrases is by no means limited to the English, but is common to all languages. In the recent posts in which I briefly discussed David Tammet's Embracing the Wide Sky, I didn't mention his discussion about the peculiarities in language being common everywhere; think of something odd you say in English, and there will be equal odd things said in other languages. Language is far more amazing than we think, not just because almost everyone learns it with relative ease, but because the sheer brainpower required to do it is inbuilt. Evolutionists claim of course we developed language for various reasons (one of them being because our brains got bigger, which seems a bit of pseudo-science, if you ask me), but however it 'developed' it's quite phenomenal when you sit down and consider its complexity.

Back to Mr Bhalla. Here are some of the non-English idioms he quotes:
To seize the moon by the teeth: attempt the impossible (French).
To reheat cabbage: to rekindle an old flame (Italian).
When the crayfish sings in the mountain: never (Russian).
Cleaner than a frog's armpit: to be poor, broke (Spanish).
To think one is the last suck of the mango: to be conceited (South American Spanish).

I'm considering using some of these in my own conversations. 'That Brian, he thinks he's the last suck of the mango!' It almost works without needing translation. And somewhere, I'm sure, there's an idiom about womens shoes, but a quick search on the Net failed to bring anything likely up.

As an adjunct to the post, there's a quiz in which genuine idioms are included with pseud ones. Quite honestly, it's hard to tell the difference. Check it out and have a good laugh! And don't forget to look at the comments section below the blog post itself. There are some superb and hilarious examples of both English and foreign idioms.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


After many years, I finally caught up with the movie, Network. I'd always heard it was worth seeing, but missed it first time around, and had never seen it anywhere since. The good old Warehouse was selling a few copies off in a sale yesterday, so I grabbed it.

If you don't like talkie movies, it's not the movie for you. This one is dialogue-packed (as opposed to action-packed), and the dialogue is great. (You can pick up a load of the lines on IMDB's quotes page for this movie, but one I liked that isn't there is: Inflexible? He's not only inflexible, he's intractable and adamantine. That may not be quite exact, but it's pretty close. Nobody uses 'adamantine' in real life, but it's wonderful in the context.)

It's a bit long, but then we've gotten so used to movies that are short and sharp in style, if not in actual length, that we can sometimes struggle with a movie that takes its time to say all it wants to say. For me the ending was a bit underdone; but perhaps the actual ending wasn't the climax; it's possible the real climax was when Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) and Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) not only talk with absolute coolness about the need to kill Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the mad prophet of the network, but decide to have it done the next night, and to use their nasty (and contracted to the Network) terrorist group to do it, and to do it live on television.

It's an horrifically satirical film, though it's not often laugh-out-loud funny. Many of the lines have time-bombs in them, and you have to listen closely for the honesty and scurrilousness they contain in about equal measure.

The cast is uniformly superb - though given the script they're working with, that's hardly surprising. Good actors will always rise to an excellent script. And the smaller parts are played with as much authority as the big: Ned Beatty doesn't turn up until late in the movie, but gets to give an extraordinary monologue on how the world is really run (as a business, of course). And an actress who is entirely unknown to me, Beatrice Straight, has little more than one big scene, and is so strong in it she almost wipes the much better known actor, William Holden, out of the picture. Apparently Straight received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her brief performance, which lasts all of five minutes, in a two hour movie.

Finch, Holden and Dunaway, along with Duvall, carry the movie, sweeping through the scenes with huge impact. Holden, if anything, looks too old for the part he plays, though he was only 58 at the time, (by my calculations. 58 is middle-aged these days, but back in 1976 it was old.). He's playing a middle-aged man, someone who has an infatuation with a younger woman in a kind of male menopause moment. The fault may be less Holden's, who does the part with huge integrity, than Paddy Chayefsky's. Chayefsky, the writer, pushes the Holden and Dunaway characters together in a slightly forced way. I don't think it quite works, and we never really believe that Holden is infatuated with Dunaway, partly because there's a long gap between their first fling and their getting together on a more permanent basis.

Finch is an isolated character. Although he's best friends with Holden, they don't have many scenes to establish this, and about a third of the way through the movie, Finch's scenes are almost all on his own, as he rants at the world via the television. We lose track of what's really going on in his head. But Finch is superb, for all that. He's given several long speeches throughout the movie, and each one is played for all it's worth, with great variety of tone, and pace. The curious thing is that by the end of the movie we're beginning to wonder if he too isn't playing the crowd for all it's worth, rather than continuing to speak honestly.

Chayefsky doesn't explain everyone's motives; he lets their ambiguity be, so that we have to think about what's going on behind the characters' eyes.

The high point of the movie - the kind of climax of the first act, as it were - is when Beale first rages at the television world, and insists viewers should lean out their windows and shout, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!". It's an extraordinary scene, and could have come across just as comedy. It is funny, but not because of people sticking their heads out windows, or standing on balconies, shouting. It's funny and sad at the same time, because here are people who, as Beale says, are living their lives through the false world of television, and yet, because of television, are shouting that they're not going to take it anymore. It reverberates in all sorts of ways.

Roger Ebert has two different reviews of this movie, one from the movie's original release date, when he finds some faults with it, and one from 2000, by which time it's become a classic of its time. And James Berardinelli, (whom, I discovered the other day, one of my good friends thinks is 'bland' - at least I think that was the word he used) wrote a review in 1998 - okay it's not bland, but I'll concede it's not particularly inspiring either(!)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

More on the ambiguous law...

More on the ambiguous anti-smacking 'law.'

Jim Evans is emeritus professor of law at Auckland University.
John Roughan is a good political commentator, but he is not right about section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961. The law it lays down is far from clear. Since much confusion exists about the section, let me try to clarify its effect as briefly as possible. ..This is not clear legislation. In creating this law, Parliament abandoned its constitutional responsibility to say with clarity just which conduct is criminal. The section results from a political fudge. Whatever other views one takes about the topic of smacking, that much at least ought to be kept clear.

Grant Illingworth QC, Barrister - Specialises in public law and civil litigation, and has been in practice for over 30 years
There are three reasons for concluding that the amendment was an inappropriate response to the problem. The first is that the amendment is an extremely poor piece of legal drafting in that it is calculated to create confusion rather than clarity. The second is that it criminalizes behaviour which should not be classified as a criminal offence. The third is that it fails to provide adequate protection for those whom it was designed to help.

Thanks for the Family First ezine for the above; just one more example of NZ Parliamentarians making bad law.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Twitter by percentage

The graphic above comes from the Information is Beautiful site, which incidentally is a blog in which things are done visually. Basically statistical information, of the more intriguing kind, is turned into graphs - or graphs are sourced from elsewhere. Well worth a look.

I first came across the Twitter graph via the site, though I don't think that I came across it directly there. Wherever it was I found it, I took a note of the URL, and that was that.

The graph is interesting, and confirms what's generally thought about Twitter. 20% of the accounts are dead - people tweeted once or twice and that was that. An enormous 50% - those in the green study - only tweet occasionally.

Only 5% have more than a 100 followers - I currently have 43, most of whom I don't actually follow myself - and there are 5% loud mouths, people who do virtually all the talking on Twitter. The other 20% isn't specified, so I can only assume it's the sort of category I come into: fairly busy (two or more tweets a day) but not exactly hugely visible.

By the way, if you want to see how little people understand graphs or maths, check out some of the comments in the link; it's pretty scary.


Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ?

Without even knowing the context, would you see this question as ambiguous? Unlikely.

Yet according to the NZ Herald, both John Key, the Prime Minister, and Phil Goff, the Opposition Leader, find this straightforward piece of English to be ambiguous. I think rather that it's their behaviour that's ambiguous. Only last year the National Party was supporting the collection of signatures to get the referendum off the ground. And prior to that, "47 of the 48 National MPs opposed to the bill."

And if we want to talk about ambiguous, back in June Sean Plunket interviewed Sue Bradford, the MP who was so keen to see the Bill go through in the first place.
After some very confusing answers to questions from Sean Plunket on National Radio on Thursday, Sue Bradford finally admitted that it was true that any smack for the purpose of correction - no matter how light and inconsequential - was in fact a criminal offence. This came as a surprise to Mr Plunket, who, like many other journalists, had been assured since the beginning that no one was being made a criminal if they smacked their child lightly on the bum.

Methinks it's the MPs who are 'ambiguous' - they've shifted ground considerably over this matter. Perhaps it's because they don't want New Zealand to lose face: going back on its 'word', not doing something that that most enlightened of countries, Sweden, does do, or getting themselves in schtuck with the United Nations and its proclamations as to how everyone should run their family.

Cam Calder said he was voting "no" on the literal wording of the referendum, rather than because he thought the current law was not working. Ambiguous?

Nikki Kay: "My worry is that many people I talk to see a 'yes' vote as a vote to reduce family violence and a 'no' vote as a vote to stop the Government interfering and telling them how to bring up their kids. I believe in reducing family violence and Government interference in people's lives." Ambiguous?

Labour's Rajen Prasad - who headed the Families Commission when the law change went through in 2007 - said he could not vote either way with comfort, so he planned to spoil his ballot paper. Ambiguous?

Crikey, what's wrong with these people? No wonder they don't know what they're up to.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Betty Boop on Boing Boing

I've heard of the blog, Boing Boing, before, but never really investigated it. It's certainly quirky, and seems to be full of odd things that you wouldn't find elsewhere.

I watched a video yesterday of a very early sound cartoon with Betty Boop as the 'star' - it's full of details and takes careful watching to see everything that's going on. Betty herself has a rather peculiar style of walking, and in this cartoon she meets up with the Old Man of the Mountain, who, in the comments, gets credited with being something to do with hashish. And yes, he also seems to have invented moonwalking decades before Michael Jackson came up with it.

I think the version below is the same as the one of Boing, Boing - if not, you can always click on this link
and catch up with the comments as well.

The video also stars Cab Calloway and his black (African-American) band, who sing some very odd stuff on the soundtrack.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Cities in NZ

While searching out some information on Northland, NZ, today, I found that the idea of what constitutes a 'city' in New Zealand is very loose. Some places seem to be self-proclamed cities, and others were cities, but became something else when there was a reformation of the districts.

However, New Zealanders confusion about what constitutes a city is nothing compared to what some overseas sites think are cities in the country.

Wikimedia Commons has a page named Category: Cities in New Zealand.
In this list we find the villages of Akaroa, Bluff and Port Chalmers, and the towns of Lyttelton and Mosgiel. The latter two are at the very least outer suburbs of bigger cities (Christchurch and Dunedin) and the former three have similar status.

On another site, Big Daddy Data, the Bay of Plenty is listed as a city. Considering that the Bay of Plenty is a conglomeration of little settlements, mostly independent of each other, this is peculiar.

A site called C2: Cities of New Zealand includes Queenstown as a city, but it appears to be written by a couple of bods with limited understanding of the area. Queenstown may be on the way to being a city, but I'm not sure that it's quite got there yet. The site also claims that Dunedin has 'Lousy weather much of the time.' Obviously a limited understanding. It also manages to include Blenheim, Greymouth and Hokitika as cities. Rather suspect information here.

A last example is a site called, which helpfully gives the estimates of various cities throughout the country as at 2005. These have obviously been worked out by some computer somewhere that doesn't know how to round off figures. It also hasn't been programmed to eliminate places that are under a certain population figure. This one includes the cities of Dannevirke, Gore, Huntly, Kaitaia, Matamata, Waiheke Island (?) and more. Enough said. Don't believe everything you find on the Net.

Grandpa nap

At last I feel completely justified in having the occasional grandpa nap....!

Nap Time: According to a Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey, on a typical day, a third of the adults (34%) in the United States take a nap. When respondents were asked if they had taken a nap in the past 24 hours, more men than women report that they had (34% vs. 31%). This gender gap occurs mostly among older adults. More than four-in-ten (41%) men ages 50 and older say they had napped compared with just 28 percent of women of the same age. Below the age of 50, men and women are about equal (35% vs. 34%). Click here to view the report. []

It's interesting to see that men over 50 tend to nap more than women of the same age...of course, it could be that we men have worked so much harder all our lives!

That tribal stuff

I'm not entirely convinced by Seth Godin's theories on tribes, but obviously plenty of other (tribal) people are. However, I keep reading Seth's blog, because quite often he has something very good to say (and occasionally says something that makes you go, Duh?). Anyway, here's a short video on the tribes idea, which Seth pronounces to be very good in part because it uses motion graphics. He claims he won't read past the first page of a pdf any more; videos like this are the way of the future for him....

The video's by Paul Durbin, by the way. He obviously has some resources many of us who are still making pdfs don't have...!

However, it's interesting that the video leads to a pdf that's available here free. I wonder if it's a pdf that will make Mr Godin read past the first page - maybe, since the second page is written by him!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Susan Blackmore

The application of natural selection to culture has been called 'memetics'. This is the theory that, like living things, ideas - or 'memes' - naturally vary and that (generally) the 'fittest' ideas survive and are replicated across generations.

Richard Dawkins first introduced the word in The Selfish Gene (1976) to discuss evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples melodies, catch-phrases, and beliefs (notably religious beliefs), clothing/fashion, and the technology of building arches.

But like a good deal of Dawkins' thinking, 'memes' is not actually science, but philosophy. Dawkins likes to promote evolution as the total answer to everything, and in the process has come up with this piece of philosophical nonsense that, while it might explain something we already know (ideas catch on), isn't actually science in any sense.

Regrettably, he has a number of disciples who plainly believe that 'memes' actually mean something. Susan Blackmore appears to be a prime example.

In the 31st July edition of New Scientist, (that most evolutionary-minded of all magazines) she has written an extraordinary piece in which she proclaims the following 'scientific' thinking:

What do I mean by "third replicator"? The first replicator was the gene - the basis of biological evolution. The second was memes - the basis of cultural evolution. I believe that what we are now seeing, in a vast technological explosion, is the birth of a third evolutionary process. We are Earth's Pandoran species, yet we are blissfully oblivious to what we have let out of the box.

Along with Dawkins, she thinks that genes have a mind of their own, and that memes (which didn't exist until Dawkins dreamt them up) have a similar ability to hop from human to human and do their own thing.

What does the following actually mean? This might sound apocalyptic, but it is how the world looks when we realise that Darwin's principle of evolution by natural selection need not apply just to biology. Given some kind of copying machinery that makes lots of slightly different copies of the same information, and given that only a few of those copies survive to be copied again, an evolutionary process must occur and design will appear out of destruction. You might call it "design by death" since clever designs thrive because of the many failures that don't.

She then goes waffling on about humans being 'lumbering robots' (Dawkins said so, so it must be right) that genes have built to carry them around, propagate them and protect them. Her article is a fanciful piece of stuff that is basically being made up as it goes along. It's pure speculation given some respectability by being published in a well-known magazine, one that often does have some real science in it.

The third replicator, of course, is technology, specifically the Internet, where apparently, according to Bradshaw, "
We should also expect design to appear spontaneously, and it does. Much of the content on the web is now designed automatically by machines rather than people."

Oh, dear.

Alison Silva

Looking some more at the brain, and creativity.

I came across this video about the artist, Alison Silva, in which we learn that she has a strange clotting up of blood vessels in her brain, and her concerns that if/when she has an operation to deal with this, she will lose her ability to be creative.

Since the clotting made its appearance, her art has taken a different tone and colouring.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Thanks to Jurgen Wolff for alerting me to this video. (But why oh why do news reporters talk in such a condescending way?)