The Golden Age

I keep saying this to my kids and friends – we\’re living in a Golden Age. Yes, I know about the global financial meltdown and that there\’s a recession still stubbornly bumping along and that we seem to have elected a government even more adrift from reality or commonsense than usual (Big Society concept? Shut down all the local libraries at once!).
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Golden ages normally happen at times of disruption and dislocation. The Elizabethan golden age, which is when most of my crime novels and thrillers are set, was considered at the time to be disastrous. There was famine and plague in the mid-1590s when Shakespeare was building his career in the new art-form of theatre. The following decade, when he wrote his major tragedies, included a risky regime change, a very serious terrorist attempt on the Houses of Parliament, more plague and some spectacular corruption in government.
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Many years ago, I read a very interesting thesis that in fact a society needs to be going supernova in order to produce the wave of creativity that is later called a golden age. That was John W Campbell in one of his thought-provoking editorials for Analog Science Fiction and Fact, a mainstay of my nerdy teenage.
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One key symptom is the massive expansion of a new art-form – theatre in the late 16th century, novels in the mid-19th century, movies and TV in the mid-20th century. Take a look at the latest wave of computer games. Like I said, it\’s a golden age.

http://www.analogsf.com/2011_07-08/index.shtml

Mounting costs

One thing I didn\’t mention yesterday was the boat trip we took from Marazion to St Michael\’s Mount – the extraordinary rock in the ocean near Penzance. One legend has
St Michael the Archangel appearing to some fishermen there in 495 AD, another tells of a giant called Cormoran being defeated by a lad called (naturally) Jack. There\’s an interesting historic castle and chuch at the top.
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The tide was in so we took the little ferryboat, walked up and around to the gate where we had to pay to get in.
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Accountants of the National Trust, take note of this: thirteen mixed young urbanites and neo-hippies gasped when told that it would cost £7 to get in. No, there weren\’t any discounts for groups. And so they all said \”too expensive\” and turned away. We had much less expensive tea at the very friendly café next to the gate so it wasn\’t a dead loss for the NT. I expect some of them could have afforded the entrance price, but some couldn\’t. So none of them went.
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I asked while we were chatting over tea – what would they have been willing to pay? Around £5 each, they said.
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So in pusuit of £91, the National Trust lost £65. Sad, isn\’t it?

http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk/Home-Page.aspx

Great day

Penzance in a grey mizzle – we had a lovely time starting with an Earth meditation at Marazion beach, opposite St Michael\’s Mount, followed by food and cider at a pub, followed by a gawp at the Egyptian House and a leisurely tramp round Penzance (during which I tripped on an escalator top step and just managed to avoid breaking the other arm by head-butting the wall. You had to be there really, but kindly nobody laughed. Yeah, yeah, the wall is fine, thanks.)
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As always I was reminded by the comments of visitors about all the things I take for granted in Cornwall. Not just the beautiful scenery and the sea, but the kindness and friendliness of the Cornish – the way people say hello even to strangers and have time for a chat.
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And nobody had laughed or pointed while we sat and meditated in a circle – though some puzzled French visitors had asked each other if we were a cult.
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No, said one of them, just English.

Tech meltdown

All I wanted to do was transfer an mp3 file from my laptop to my Samsung phone. Yes, it supposedly can achieve this modern miracle that millions of people do routinely every day. No, I\’ve never done it before. Yes, I wanted to, I just kept putting it off. See if you can work out why.
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What happened? Well, after carefully reading the manual (how many people do that?), I followed the instructions and when they didn\’t work, I followed the new instructions and when that didn\’t work either, I went on the Samsung website and tried to do what that instructed and when that didn\’t work, I asked someone\’s advice but she\’d only ever used an iPod, and then I tried again and when that didn\’t work I tried Help which told me to do what I\’d been trying to do umpty-ump times with no success at all and when I tried it anyway…
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Computer. Still. Said. No.
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So I said, \”Sod you, you lump of jumped-up rock and plastic, I don\’t even want to listen to mp3s on my phone, so there.\”
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But it doesn\’t care.

Pirates of the Caribbean, part whatever

Cap\’n Jack Sparrow minced up to the corpse and gave it a kick. His nose twitched at the reek. Bits were coming off, bones were showing through. Populations of worms were building cities and contemplating opening a stock market and derivative-swaps.
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\”I think it\’s dead,\” he muttered, \”Done for. Gone.\”
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\”No, no,\” said the Disney executives, \”Look, it\’s moving.\”
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\”Gentlemen,\” pronounced Cap\’n Jack, \”I think the worms are moving. Not it.\”
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\”It\’s fine, look, we\’ll add another zero to your contract…\”
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Cap\’n Jack stopped, raised his eyebrows and squinted down at the thing in front of him. \”A miracle!\” he smiled. \”Who\’d\’a thought it. Aye.\”
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And so \”Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides\” lurched to its feet and zombied down the red carpet.

Archie Brown\’s again

I\’ve got to praise these guys again, despite the risk that they might get packed out with customers so I won\’t be able to get a seat.
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Yesterday I took myself there again after another x-ray. I needed to recover from the idea of having an operation to screw a plate onto my broken ulna to make sure it heals properly.
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So I treated myself to a mushroom, leek and mizuna frittata which is like a Spanish omelette but made with chickpea flour, a large fresh salad and a pud of such gob-smacking wonderfulness that it qualified for the top foody adjective in my vocabulary.
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It was a crisp and squidgy meringue, sprinkled with hibiscus, covered with lemon curd, strawberies and double cream.
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The bill? Under a tenner. The word? Orgasmatronic

Wrongly-delivered dream

Setting off for school this morning, No.2 son said he thought he\’d had a dream meant for someone else last night. It was about how to protect from gamma radiation and then re-use the particles\’ energy.
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As far as he could remember, it was a dome made of some kind of bubbly stuff and the radiation bounced off and was caught. There was a lot more but he couldn\’t remember it because he\’s not a particle physicist/engineer.
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So if there\’s anyone out there working on gamma radiation who had a dream last night about being a samurai-sword-wielding detective with a dog, I\’m afraid that\’s where your stroke of genius went.

Crispy socks

You know teenage boys\’ socks? You know how they get more than just cheesy – they sort of harden and become crispy as well?
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Did you know that they then come to life after midnight and walk all over the place? No? Well, I trust my sons and know that they would never just leave foetid footwear hanging on furniture or on the sitting room floor where Holly the daffy dog can get at them and have a nice little chew on them.
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Therefore they must be coming to life and trotting off for adventures all over the house.
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It\’s the only explanation.

Madam and the Gels

Ferried by my kind Beekeeping Mentor to the Tregothnan estate to see how the bees are doing: Madam is in her new house, quite perked up by last week\’s adventure, laying away and looking very elegant, while the gels have drawn comb on no fewer than six frames.
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Meanwhile the bees in the parent hive have five queens waiting in their sealed queen cells, plus one larva still munching the royal jelly. Some beekeepers say you should destroy all but one of the queen cells, some say you should let cruel mother nature take her course – and any two beekeepers will normally have three to five opinions on the subject.
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I tend to prefer laisser faire so we left them and hope the queens don\’t wipe each other out when they fight. Apparently, the worker bees sometimes hold the younger queens back in their cells until the first to hatch has got back safely from her mating flight and started to lay. That way they have a failsafe if a bird eats her – very clever.
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All seemed well in the two little cities so we put the roofs back on and left.

Information point

Yesterday I finished reading James Gleick\’s brilliant book \’The Information\’ – about something that\’s so central to everything we do now, it\’s hard to believe nobody had really thought about it until after the Second World War. Apart from Charles Babbage and Ada Lady Lovelace, that is.
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You know all those bytes your computer can remember? A byte is eight bits and a bit is the information you get when you toss a coin – a binary yes/no decision. Everything computers do starts there.
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I\’ve probably read that information twenty times in various different places – but Gleick\’s clarity and vigour got it into my head and stuck it there. He specialises in taking fiendishly complicated subjects – Chaos, Feynman and quantum physics – and making them seem easy to understand. He\’s done it again here. Anyone who\’s even vaguely interested in today\’s information flood and why it is that Google and Facebook rule the infosphere, has to read this book.
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And by the way, it has an elegantly clever cover design.