Thursday, 20 October 2016

After the flood

I saw something today which although not a particularly uncommon sight, I've never actually been in a position to observe such an event in its entire splendour before, a rainbow. It caught me unaware as I stepped through the door and it's fair to say that its beauty startled me for a second. I just couldn't stop looking at it, it seemed to make that autumn sky, usually so encroaching and opaque, just so enormous. It was the same feeling you get when you're on the coast and horizon opens up, the world suddenly becomes so much bigger. I could see so much of the sky, not just the underside of a few clouds.

As I walked past a house, my eyes fixed upon the vivid hues, a mother stepped through the door with her child, 'It's a rainbow' she said. The child's first I imagine by the tone of her voice, she pronounced rainbow with that sense of awe mother's reserve for their children. I've no firm Idea how old the child was, my attention being focused elsewhere, I got the sense that she was holding a bundle just under toddling age. I'm wondering how the sight seemed to that child, will they be looking for another rainbow tomorrow or were they too young to perceive it properly? Who knows but I think that mum will remember their child's first rainbow.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Fatal misconceptions

This is actually not a bad video, albeit a bit light on detail, what it does illustrate though is the power of ill conceived notions. There's a process through which information is disseminated and acquired that is a bit like Chinese whispers: send three and fourpence we're going to a dance. It occurs where there's a common exchange of information that is generally accepted as fact but the information of concern, was acquired without sufficient insight or context to apply it effectively. Generally the consequences of such activity are insignificant, people just go around with a bunch of notions in their head that are not connected to reality. Big deal, that happens all the time, read a newspaper or watch the a television news bulletin and you'll find a bunch of folk making their living ensuring that condition is maintained. This particular notion though, the Spitfire's fatal flaw, is an exception; unfortunately it's been implicated as a contributory factor in an accident that lead to the death of two people. I call this process of flawed information exchange, eavesdrop acquisition, which seems to aptly summarise it because the information of concern is often overheard during a casual encounter and the peril of eavesdropping is the lack of relevant context.

The details of the early iteration of the Spitfire's fuel system and its performance during negative g relayed here are essentially correct, it's just that the implications drawn are misleading. Weapons like the Spitfire are essentially solutions to engineering problems, because they're used in conflict the effectiveness of such solutions is subject to an intense imperative. Practical engineering is a process involving compromise and trade off, the fastest aeroplane you can make, wont be the one with the highest climb rate so you settle upon a compromise between those two goals. In the meantime, you do your best to ameliorate any negative impact of such compromise. When it came to designing the Spitfire their solution was, let's get as much power out of this engine as we possibly can. Maybe as a consequence of this urgent imperative, the negative g performance of the Merlin's fuel system, seems to have been overlooked or even placed on the back burner, it being seen as not of immediate significance. Unfortunately that all changed rather catastrophically when Johnny French adopted waving white flags as his national past time.

When Fritz spanked Frenchy and sent him to work in the cheese factory, one of the consequences was they captured a number of intact Hawker Hurricanes. The Hurricane's engine and fuel system were essentially identical to the Spitfire's and what did Fritz find when he put this booty through flight test? Yep, look what happens when you put the thing into negative g. So the flaw in the Spitfire wasn't so much the compromised fuel system, it was the fact that the Germans knew about it and were able to exploit it. They also found a number of other significant flaws with the Hurricane, not least its header tank situated on the cockpit side of the engine firewall, just behind the pilot's instrument panel. They must've laughed their nuts off when they found that howler. Incidentally, after testing the Hurricane, the German opinion was almost universally derisive. Which must've been a great relief to them because the Me 109 had been, rather hastily, rebuilt into a much larger aeroplane after a panic at the German air ministry prompted by the Hurricane's introduction.

So why didn't the Germans win The Battle of Britain then? Well although the negative g performance of the early Spitfire's and Hurricane is a significant flaw, it's only really exploitable in a head on confrontation or against an inexperienced pilot. It doesn't work while you're being chased by a Spitfire because your opponent has ample opportunity to avoid negative g, all he has to do is bank his aeroplane and pull back the stick. It works head on because you can just gently nose down your 109, the Spitfire can't bring his weapons to bear and goes sailing over your head. The flaw caused enough concern though, to prompt hasty remedial action. The video's account is reasonably accurate in this regard, Miss Shilling's orifice, followed by successive more effective solutions. So in short measure, poor ol' Fritz found himself sauntering through the sky thinking he'd dive to safety, only to find himself facing eight angry machine guns, that must've been a bad day.

So how does eavesdrop acquisition prove to have fatal consequences in this case? Well the misconceptions around this topic aren't just related to the means by which the Germans acquired knowledge of this issue and were able to exploit it. Perhaps because of the rather colourful term associated with Miss Shilling, the tale of the Spitfire, negative g and the orifice in question had become a bit of common banter; raised whenever the topic of conversations turns to The Battle of Britain, the Spitfire, the Merlin engine or aerial combat in general. And so 'knowledge' of the Spitfire's and Merlin's negative g flaw, permeates the broader collective consciousness. So when two pilots noted intermittent problems with one of the engines on their Merlin engined Mosquito bomber, they drew upon their common understanding to attribute it to this flaw. The simple fact that the negative g flaw had been diligently and systematically eradicated from all Merlin engines by a process of managed and recorded modification, as is standard practice in the aerospace industry, was lost upon them. As a consequence they missed a vital clue to the condition of the engine after faulty maintenance.

And so I'm afraid, that's how the fatal consequences followed. I suppose there's a lesson there; be careful of the wisdom you bestow, make sure it is actually wisdom.

Sunday, 2 October 2016


There was this Scottish guy called Allen and he says to me 'Are you left handed?'. To which I reply in the negative, I was going to follow up my response with something like; why would you think I'm a cack-handed freak? but prudence got the bettor of me. Just as well really because he informs me that he's left handed and it's not too wise to jibe your superiors with such banter. It becomes apparent though, he's got a bee in his bonnet because he pursues  the topic, 'Are you sure...' yeah like that makes sense, someone not knowing which hand they favour. So to placate his curiosity I inform him that my dad was left handed, and that he was a tailor so it was something that he had to accommodate with special shears. 'I've noticed you do lots of things left handed' he continues, 'can you write your name with your left hand?'.

'I dunno, never tried.' I tell him. Anyway he passes me a pen and scrap of paper and I write my name left handed, which to my eyes, looks like the trail left by spider who's just escaped drowning in ink; Allen though, is pretty impressed by it. I invite everyone else seated at the table to have a go, we were at lunch by the way, but no one else seems inclined to try. And so the incident subsided into history, just another piece of inexplicable trivia from the past. Until that is, I had trouble with a new pair of shoes, the laces just wouldn't stay done up. So I tried to solve the problem by investigating reasons why laces would continually work loose and I came across this video: You've been tying your shoe laces the wrong way.

Right a new way to tie shoe laces, this has gotta be worth checking out I think; isn't it amazing what interest in trivia the internet arouses? Something seems very wrong though as I watch the video, the guy seems to be demonstrating the technique the wrong way round, as if he were left handed. Not another cack-handed freak I think, what the hell makes him think he's a suitable person to instruct normal people? So I find another video, same problem but this time I manage to work out these people are demonstrating the same method of tying laces that I use, just the wrong way round. That's a strange co-incidence though I think, two videos and two lefties, what can be up? Then a disturbing possibility dawns on me, hastily I check out other lace tying instructional videos and everyone is tying their laces the wrong way round. Eventually the penny drops and I realize that dad taught me how to tie shoe laces left handed. Armed with this new insight my attention returns to those troublesome shoes, the ones with the recalcitrant laces. Doesn't it make sense that the nap on laces would be arranged for right handed people, I think to myself, so I reverse the laces and guess what, it works.

So if you've got a pair of shoes where the laces keep undoing, forget the new way to tie laces, it's most probably the way you tie 'em already anyway. The problem is probably, that you're either a freaky left handed aberration or that the laces have been threaded incorrectly. It only seems to be a problem with very flat tape laces too, the ordinary round ones work either way.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Next stop: Rhamnous

It's hard I know, because there are so many folk only too ready to test your patience but the most important attributes to foster in professional life are civility and honesty. By professional life, I mean in the broad sense, very few of us are literal professionals and those that are, seem to spend all their time circumventing the ethical standards administered by their professions with little or no consequence. The rest of us though, have to get by and so I will relate a cautionary tale of, not exactly woe but a not so minor degree of misfortune for a particular individual. It's not woeful because he never knew about it, for him there was no gnashing of teeth or sour grapes to contend with, all that he knew of it was the phone just didn't ring.

There was this meeting, a fair few years ago now, during which a few potential creative resources where mooted. Only we get to one name and I'm afraid I must've let my guard down for a second and let one of those looks out, you know the rolling eyes and the fidgety head because everyone stopped talking and looked at me. 'You know him?' the boss asked.

'Er--no, I've had some... er I've encountered him,' would approximate my reply. I would've been trying hard to change the subject but to no avail because then the interrogation started, what's he like, is he reliable, that kind of thing. I pretty sure I didn't actually say the word arsehole in response to these queries but it would've been hanging in the air during the lengthy pauses between my words. I tried really hard to be fair, not to condemn him in literal terms but my feelings on the subject got the better of me and were betrayed by my countenance. My equivocal vocal response didn't help matters and he was quietly removed from the discussion.

I felt a little guilty because it was a case of personal animosity, I'd encountered him while I was touting for work and he was a little, how can I say this, um--obstructive? As I mentioned, I felt guilty but I didn't feel bad about it, someone else would benefit from his misfortune and they'd be buying a new house on the coast or boozing it up in Thailand in their favourite lady boy bar. In the end, we went for a guy who'd been quite a well known name from a decade or so before. He was an occasional visitor to the building, having some dealings with an agent on another floor. From his demeanour and attire, I gather he'd hit hard times so perhaps it's just as well.

I'm not quite sure why the unlucky party had given me such gip during our encounter, at the time I thought it was a wrong side of the river thing. Since then though, I have seen him interviewed and you know what, he does come across as a bit of an arsehole. I don't think he ever moved out of that flat south of the river though.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Waiting for dinner

There was this time I was waiting in an airport departure lounge in Boston. I bet you weren't even aware of any airports in Lincolnshire. Ho ho, got you it was Boston Massachusetts, I don't see a need to flee Lincolnshire by jet, not unless there's a prospect of being chased by mutant mangleworzles. Anyway I was scouting for food and tripped into an eatery where they were selling sea food, I think I might've bought a sandwich but they had in there, this tank.  In this tank there were a bunch of live lobsters, they had their claws bound with elastic bands but were otherwise quite aggressive with each other. It was something of a sight to see this little drama, a kind of mini wild life show depicting the aggressive behaviour of wild animals; I was quite engrossed for a while. Then the relevance of my perspective dawned on me, I was inhabiting the domain of what draughtsmen used to call, the divine aspect, looking down upon these creatures in the manner of dispassionate Grecian deity. Soon their fate would be decided by someone like me, external to the concerns of their little world and yet those lobsters were not equipped to comprehend any of it; makes you think don't it?

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Tunnel vision

Yesterday I was having a bit of a mare, migraine all bloody day, blazing sunshine with the sun low in the sky and no sunglasses. Even squinting was no use because my eyelashes fell out years ago. When I was a kid, migraine was so unbearable, the pain so excruciating that it's easy to appreciate why sufferers are occasionally discovered with their head in the oven. Happily, the pain hasn't been so much of a problem in adulthood--touch wood, uncomfortable yes but reasonably tolerable. The main practical problems being you just can't flippin' see properly and when your eyes are open, you just want to vomit and you incur the danger of the more severe symptoms, i.e the pain, occurring.

Unfortunately I had to be out and about for a while and it was evident from their reactions, that people thought I was an utter lunatic. Of course they did, a blinking (literally blinking) idiot who kept his eyes covered while he spoke is bound to draw some suspicion. You've probably heard about the weird lights blah blah, one of the most acute problems though, is the tunnel vision, which can really catch you out when it occurs. It's quite hard to describe because there is no actual tunnel, it's just that visual perception becomes confined to what you're focused on. So you're walking along the road and a woman with a pram appears out of nowhere, bang! You get an earful from an irate mother and if you're really unlucky, the threat of assault from some chav, either older son or irate boyfriend, that's accompanying her.

Something sweet is was what cured it yesterday, I grabbed a pecan pastry with treacle and I kid you not, it subsided almost as soon as the pastry hit my stomach and was gone within a few minutes. You know what's odd, the pastry tasted absolutely fantastic. It's as if it were ambrosia born from Olympus on a silken cushion and wafted to the earthly domain by a bevy of nimble, rather scantily clad goddesses. Marvellous what a little deprivation does to enhance the senses.

While recovering from this episode, I cast my mind to the subject of the previous post. Even for a politician of questionable ethical standing, it is possible to feel some sympathy when that person is enduring some physical distress. If that distress should prove to be the as the result of some serious condition, which at the moment I think is quite likely, what questions arise about the role of the media in such circumstances? I've seen enough to indicate that a certain degree of acquiescence, even collusion must be present. I suppose that's hardly a surprise but surely in this instance,  should events take their natural course, they are going to be difficult to reconcile. In a way though, that's already happened, there was no media footage of the incident in New York that brought this issue into the public arena, it was a guy with a phone or some such. So sometime after those shots of her face in the crowd at ground zero, someone must've said, 'No pictures' or something like it. What's interesting there, is that so far it seems they obeyed their instructions, not just one or two of 'em but all of them. Not a single dodgy snap from an agency bod nothing at all, except for what Joe Bloggs caught on his phone.

And there lies the irony, it's the measures taken to keep unbidden attention at bay that are so telling. The men in dark suits that block camera viewfinders so promptly, that faithful attendant who's somewhat evocative of the Nubian eunuch stereotype. He certainly seems to know his job, never flustered or indeed even surprised, he directs his more frantic underlings with an enviable assurance.

There are two things that arouse my curiosity, what kind of memos are the journalists getting in their in boxes and just what is in those handy palm size devices, those attendants are always getting out of their jacket breast pockets too soon.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Reflective millinary time

So I caught this video on YT, it's one of those live feed ones, so it sent my browser into a fit. The video itself concerns the political contest currently waging on the other side of the pond, specifically speculation on the health of one of the candidates. So it's not a normally a video I would naturally attribute much credence to. Politics in not a game noted for its honesty after all and the general climate of mendacious fiction permeates throughout the factions.

Or that's what I thought, just for the giggle I tried to gain further insight into the rumour this particular video was circulating by performing a Google search.  It's no surprise that a bunch of loony conspiracy theories featured prominently in the search results. Right I'll try the Google News search then--oh dear, more loonies but there's one thing here on The Huffington Post. Click--it's been pulled, happily though Google's cache provides me with the gen.

After reading the item the partisan slant is quite obvious but it did raise some awkward questions so I decide to re-examine the Google news search list. Among the luminaries featured in the search results are such august news gathering organisations as: Charisma News‎, The Inquisitr‎, Liberty News Now, The Hayride. Okay, so maybe not a story I should take seriously, except isn't there something missing in this list? That's right, nothing and I do mean absolutely nothing, from any of the major news services, not even a: ho ho ho, let's laugh at the conspiracy theorists and that shiny head gear. Okay so it's Sunday evening and the weekend lag might be causing a bottleneck with news copy but a total blank on the story? That's starting to make me wonder.