Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Is Language a Meme?

Perhaps the best way to think about language is that it is a very successful Meme because it clearly evolves and replicates - and most other memes depend on it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A Rainfall Crisis looming in Eastern England

Some of you may have heard that there has been so little rainfall in Eastern England in recent months that there could be a serious crisis next year - so I popped out with my camera and took a few photographs to record what is happening.
First I went to College Lake
And found a seriously flooded track (The sign reads "No Access")

So I then went to Startops Reservoir - about a mile away
It was even lower than when I saw it a week ago - and this is the time of year when reservoirs should be rapidly filling up. The stream feeding the reservoir had completely dried up.

So what on Earth is Happening???

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Original Ideas and Brain Research

When I saw this cartoon a bell rang in my mind – there's something there I should think about – and during a restless nigh the ideas came rushing out. The whole idea behind my “Trapped in the Box” blog is that we are all constrained by what we do, and how we think, by our experiences and the environment in which we find ourselves. Our brains have evolved to learn about the world we live in, in order to survive and as a result we are always having what to us are “original ideas” to add to our personal brain model of our surroundings. We feel we can be certain of known knowns, and we can ask questions about known unknowns – but we have no way of exploring unknown unknowns until something unexpected happens to highlight a gap in our personal knowledge base.

Eighteen Years in Prison because a box remained locked

In 1992 Paula Gilfoyle was found hanged in a garage, and despite the fact that there was a suicide note in her own handwriting her husband was found guilty of murdering her, in effect because she was not the kind of person who would have killed herself. Her husband repeatedly claimed his innocence and two appeals against the conviction were dismissed . After 18 years in prison he was released on parole. An important part of the case against him was that the suicide note was completely out of character with Paula's state of mind, so her husband must have forced her to write it. Many people thought it all sounded very improbable at the time.

So what has now happened, at least according to The Times. At the time of her death the police took, as evidence, a locked box and the defence only learnt of its existence and contents in 2010. The box contained Paula's diary – which revealed an earlier suicide attempt which the court had not been told about, and two suicide notes written by former boyfriends – one of which was echoed in the note her husband was alleged to have dictated. The case is currently being re-assessed in light of the new evidence about Paula's mental state and it seems likely that the verdict will be overturned. There is also likely to be an enquiry as to why clearly vital evidence was withheld from the defence at the time of the original trial and the subsequent appeals.

In part this case highlight a problem with the adversarial legal system which is devoted to allocating guilt – rather than finding out what actually happened and why, but looking at the evidence in a neutral way. If your job is to find someone guilty it is very easy, possibly even subconsciously, to leave on one side leads which may weaken your case. If this means leaving some documents in a box so that no-one knows of their existence, your excuse is that it was merely an oversight and of course you were not deliberately withholding evidence from the defence.`

Monday, 9 January 2012

Slava's Snowstorm – Comedy outside the box

Over the Christmas holiday we went to London to join our granddaughter (aged 7) at the Christmas Show at the Royal Festival Hall – and it was an unbelievable experience – in part because we had no idea what to expect – so if you are planning to go (possibly at another venue) and don't want to know what happened don't read below the fold.

I am coming up for breath

It's been rather quiet on this blog for some time – and part of the problem is that I have had too much on my mind and not enough time to do everything I wanted to.

Part of the problem is that old age is catching up with me and during the first three months of 2012 I may well have a cataract removed from my one “good” eye, a kidney stone removed from my bladder, and possibly one other small operation. Having lost nearly 1kg a month throughout most of 2011 I have put some of it back on over Christmas – partly for over eating (see It was a real Aylesbury Duck) and partly because I have not kept up my daily walks. So that is another reason for me to spend more time in a health way - including more walking and swimming - and less time sitting at the terminal nibbling snacks!

The second is that I am no longer as good at multitasking as I was and I have been more involved in family activities – especially around our 50th wedding anniversary at the end of September and other social activities around Christmas and the New Year.

However one of the reason why this blog has been so quiet is that I am enjoying blogging! At first sight this may seem a little perverse but is linked to the fact that I have been running the Genealogy in Hertfordshire web site for over 10 years, and which is approaching a quarter of a million visits a year,. Having got this blog up and running I thought it would be a good idea to switch the Genealogy Newsletter section of the site onto blogging software. The result is the Hertfordshire Genealogy News – and it has taken off like a rocket. Page view totals starting in September are 868, 1358, 1684, 2357 and January is on target to reach 3000. The idea was to save me time – but it is clear that people prefer the modern blogger interface and in fact I have been even busier - and this blog has been neglected.

I decided that for the New Year I would devote some time each day to progressing this blog – and follow up the brainstorms about CODIL and the evolution of the brains internal language – but first I will get into the swing with a few posts relating to the way that we are mentally and physically

Did this box mean that Christmas was less painful for you?

My wife has a bad back and regularly takes Paracetamol – and our local supermarket sells a box of 16 tablets (two days supply) for 15p – but will only sell two boxes at once. Around Christmas 2010 the shop ran out for several weeks. OK sometimes shops run out of particular stock items so at first I thought “no great deal”. However a month ago it happened again.

So do the stresses of the Christmas season mean an increase in headaches and other painful discomorts ???