All posts by RobD

A theme to develop

Reading again about digital data collection whistleblowers:

War on whistlelblowers and journalists

I had to comment:

For me the insanity of the NSA et al data collection is that criminals will infiltrate the agency. I have no doubt that criminal organizations are investing in putting people into top universities, like Stanford, in order for them to get jobs in the digital spying agencies. Once they understand the backdoors built into proprietary encryption software, so that the NSA can decrypt on the fly, all financial services will be open to huge fraud; probably we would not know about it – the criminals would not want their work hampered. But, at some point the world could literally be held to ransom. Of course not just financial services would be in jeopardy. Edward Snowden is the good guy, we will not know about the bad guys till something awful happens.

Natural Life and Natural Death, not Life or Death

I found the Mortality statistics in England and Wales a wonderful insight on how we view death. On the chart every death has a cause, some labelled disease (almost). There are a few Unknown causes and a slight hint in the use of the word Senility, but that death might be natural is not part of the classification. We would be immortal if only we could get rid of disease. I am not criticizing these statistics they are important in deciding priorities in health care.

A more realistic view comes in a book The Emperor Of All Maladies: A Biography Of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I have not read the book yet though I will do so soon, However, there is a summary in an article by the author Cancer: The new normal?. He is presenting cancer as something not to be conquered (because maybe that is not possible due to the very processes that keep us alive) but something that we can live with if we focus on medications that limit or postpone the damage that cancer does. This reminds me of a similar suggestion about malaria that we might be able to make it a less malign disease and live with it.

One of the most beautiful books I have read in the past few years is Final Exam, A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality, by Pauline W. Chen. In the book she shows how in our aversion to acknowledging our mortality we fail people in that last period of life when body systems fail. I will extend my comments after reading Mukherjee’s book.

Science, humbling and inspirational

I sometimes visit the Science Museum in London to ponder some of the exhibits and find myself humbled by what has been discovered and invented in the past. I have marvelled at the James Watt steam engine that looks so crudely made and obvious now, yet required a big thought transition to conceive and build. Here is something from over 2000 years ago. It has precision gearing to do complex calculations: The Antikythera Mechanism. There is a link to the article in Nature Ancient astronomy: Mechanical inspiration that you might as well read instead as it has more detail. I did know about this device from articles a few years ago but at that time the 3D analysis with X-rays had not been done and I didn’t follow up the details. Now the details of the contruction of the device are so refined that we can appreciate the immense knowledge and skill in making it, and fully understand its function.

Notes after a year of blog

The blog is notes to myself that might sometimes be picked up by others who may find some useful insight.

I write things down to clarify and consolidate thoughts because I find that it is easy to have the illusion that you have a view or opinion which turns out not to be so when you try to articulate it. I have still not resolved what I should write about, though not things that are about my main activities. Probably there is 10% of general interest material that I would like to comment on, but where is the lifetime?

If I wanted to write about my main activities in depth I would have to start dedicated blogs, and how does one get the right balance of doing things and writing about the doing?

I marvel at the reams that some bloggers manage to post. Maybe are more talkative people than me.

I realise how little people read of what one writes because I read some other blogs and note how little I read, and I know how little my own friends read of what I write. It is worth giving thought to this to optimize one’s activities. I may start the optimize-blog blog.

A remarkable and inspiring person

Clara Schumann was my pianist heroine for many years. Now I have another: Alice Herz-Sommer. At the time of writing this she is aged 107. I read the biography because I came across a video Holocaust survivor Alice Herz Sommer playing piano and then searched for more information.

There are several valuable things to learn from Alice. The most immediate for me was the dedication to keyboard practise. I have always fancied being able to give a good rendering of the Chopin Studies but have always muddled along because I did not put in the time; for now I have faith that if I do the work I will get to something competent and my target is one year – at which point I will try to avoid feeling I have wasted a lot of my lifetime in doing things half-way.

The next crucial lesson is to shun bitterness and bad feeling about people and the past; this must include oneself as many self-help books say.

My criticism of the biography is that I assume it was written from her reminiscences but tends to read like a docu-drama where many conversations are made up to set a tone. I would have preferred Alice’s own notes. Although not without some interest because I hope that they reflect Alice’s emotional view of the Chopin Studies the digressions on each of the studies should really have been an appendix. Finally, the latter part of Alice’s life was rushed through with most focus on the bad years during and immediately after the German occupation of Prague.

Whetever, it must be a great privilege to know Alice Herz-Sommer.