Well, as they say, it’s been a while but I thought there are some that haven’t suffered enough, so a newsletter is in order.
This started quite some time ago in relation to the posting date, so if ‘now’ seems to drift, or I cover the same ground twice my apologies. The last significant events posted were Mum’s passing and my cousin Nigel more recently. His illness meant I had been visiting Maryport more often and his proximity and loosened restrictions meant I could go to the funeral. Nigel had been able to get to Mum's a short while before, and I know that was quite important to him. I've put a photo of Mum's woodland graveside in. I think it was a happy event, if you understand. Not at all morbid, there was lots of laughter and lovely weather as well. A happy memory. Both will be missed for their generosity.
The Covid restrictions relaxed in time and long enough for me to have a last visit to him and Mum and for their respective funerals.
It does come and go a bit around here and recently (March 2022) the disease incidence had increased locally and we have reacted accordingly. That might seem a bit of an over-reaction, but we are in a bubble with some locals with significant co-morbidities. As I write this bit, (April 29) the numbers in South Lanarkshire are still high having just dropped below the highest ever peak of 20,000 active cases in the last week or so. I’m hoping it will continue. It may be gone completely by the time I get this published, there having been several delays and some re-writing. It's now looking as though the new variant isn't making as much headway as was expected. I get a daily update about the local incidence and it's down to 10,000.
I've always suspected businesses that seem to have cleaned up their act without any obvious change at the consumer end. I have, for the last 20 years or so, when the recycling bins appeared, always made a special effort to recycle plastic, including the bits dropped at the reserve we monitor, and was pleased when the council expanded what it could recycle from the 1 (PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) and 2 (HDPE High-density polyethylene) types. Apparently Which? 2021 thinks that type 5 (pp Polypropylene) is easy to recycle and type 4 LDPE is manageable. The rest are increasingly difficult up to 7 (Other), composite but still plastic) which is very difficult, and that includes crisp packets and salad bags. Judging by the statistics however we (US and UK) don't really recycle much of any of it and the whole process has been undermined by the plastics industry using the recyclable logo for all plastics irrespective. Here's a video by Matt Ferrell. https://youtu.be/HNWn885qWtU
As to what to do about it, well use less plastic obviously, but lean on your supermarket, MP and anyone who'll listen.
I hear that Elon Musk is developing an android, supposedly for production next year, a human shaped but totally artificial robot called Optimus. I was quite surprised to hear that our technology had advanced that far, but his 'full self driving' has been a year away for a decade now so it may not be on time.
Optimus is, or will be, an android not a cyborg. Human-machine combinations are called cyborgs, androids are human shaped machines that can perform human functions. Neither exist as yet as far as we know although Musk's brain implants might take us a stage further down that road. A pacemaker or hearing aid would qualify you as a cyborg looked at the right way, I suppose it's a matter of definition. I remembered that most SciFi films had both turn on their creators. Irrational perhaps, but Custard the cat attacks Fiona regularly and it’s Fiona that feeds her. Cats are rational even if we don't know what motivates them, the same may be true of robots. She (the cat) just ignores me, but lots of them do that. It'll be a while before artificial systems reach the general intelligence of a cat, but anything with teeth can bite, and generally does, so perhaps we should be cautious about making any super-human robotics. Flying drones are already equipped with guns and bombs and seem to be as accurate as humans, who aren't accurate at all. I'd rather not be attacked by anything, but at least you could see an android coming, and given the fallibility of computers and their programmers I think we are safe for the moment. Self motivated killer robots does sound like AS (Artificial Stupidity) and perhaps not a good idea.
Musk has advertised his worries about the possibility of cybernetic war, so, as the capabilities and programming are quite important, maybe that’s why he is getting in while he can influence the future. I think the idea is to build a Mars base with these robots. Quite neat if it works, but getting an engineer out there could prove expensive. Arthur C Clark wrote a series of short stories about autonomous robots in distant environments, the main problem seemed to be developed from poorly written programming and mutually opposed directives. HAL from 2001 suffered the same dilemma. I suppose there are several options on the appearance a real android might be given and I think his slightly androgynous and faceless prototype might be a good start. The films tend to use female looking creations for obvious cinematic reasons but I'd go for the Star Wars C3P0 style in that it works in a human environment and with human tools, it also avoids the need for laundry, but is obviously artificial and not particularly threatening. I'd say the Optimus design has that in mind.
If the Optimus idea works then it should be a short while before we have the opportunity to get them making more of themselves and doing all the jobs we don't want to do from surgery to potato harvesting. Obviously there's no need for them to look like humans for that. The questions that emerge after this great labour saving device is what are the 'spare' people going to do and where does their income come from. Certainly I've had no trouble keeping occupied since retirement, and that's a decade now. I think a universal income will be necessary or it'll all become very nasty very quickly.
The SciFi films usually focus on human appearance because it is easier to film a human actor with added prosthetics than mechanical devices, and if you bolt four of them to a chassis then you are getting closer to an android. In the real world, you'd have to emphasise a smiling face especially if it was bigger than the average human. The Terminator, acted by Schwarzenegger, made a certain amount of sense as you'd need a bigger frame in early models, although for tactical advantages I’d have made it fat rather than muscular. Same size but less threat. In the films the later ones tended to be smaller as you'd expect, but (I hope) the US should have noticed that a 5 year old can be just as dangerous and less predictable than a terrorist, if both have a loaded gun.
Curiously the ‘real’ android development has been pushed forward by the use of cinematic ‘robotic devices’ and they in turn have helped in the advances in artificial limbs. On film they have to be reasonably believable, and although there is usually just a hand, leg or eye if they are put together with an understanding of how the human body works mechanically, film enthusiasts will quickly spot mechanical impossibilities, and of course they have to work. After that all that’s needed is miniaturisation, the right sensors and software. Of course, like ‘Full Self Driving’ cars, the software is the difficult bit, but I suspect the Boston Dynamics ‘dogs’ and walkers seen are early models, which means ‘Optimus’ must be close to completion mechanically and just waiting for the upgrade, which will be ‘over the air’. I still think homicidal quad-copters are more dangerous.
Mechanical devices have long been one of my interests, robotics included, and industrial archeology, (well that’s my name for it), covers the particular field of found devices and I enjoy working out what they were or did. My garages and sheds contain more than a few things that I’ve never really understood. Here for instance is a ‘socket wrench’, (an unfortunate term, I’ll explain why later). There is a general lack of information, I don't know where I got it and it is unmarked except a few of the sizes being stamped in. No name on anything including the box, which may have had many more ‘bits’. I don’t think it’s a one off. I’ll let the picture do the explanation, in the hope of someone recognises it. The hexagonal ends fit into the conical end and the button allows the head to flip. The knurled ring reverses the ratchet, there are 3 sockets and 7 ‘crow feet’, a screwdriver and a really odd ring. There’s no guarantee the box is original.
I was wandering around the internet and found an opinion piece which thought that the BBC had distorted historical drama by introducing multi ethnic actors to periods, especially the Victorian era, that were largely white, Anglo-Saxon and christian. Characters had randomised origins, sex, colour and race. I was considering whether the opinion was racist, or whether I was being over sensitive.
I understand the basic premise, but the 'UK' where most of the dramas were placed has always been a mongrel race, as was Rome and to a lesser extent, Athens. The influx of 'foreigners', Jamaicans, Vikings, Huguenots, Romans, Normans, Jews, and Poles has never ceased and the mixing of Irish and Scottish has further blended 'our' peoples, generally to our benefit. Deciding what or who 'our' people are or were gets a bit tricky as many populations have been diluted, deleted and absorbed. Furthermore the making of historical or period programs have usually normalised the scenes to modern standards to some extent. Accents, terminology, vocabulary, hair styles and behaviour have all been shifting, and the original would probably be incomprehensible to us now. Reading Chaucer and Shakespeare prove that interpretations have to be made, despite the purists advocating the reading of foreign poets in the original language. I doubt that many discard all dictionaries. Having an all white, largely male cast would make the past seem normal for my generation, but if going for historical accuracy, you’d have to introduce rampant sexism, racism, and quite different levels of personal behaviour and habit. In the historically correct settings the story would become distracting and confusing, would rarely pass current censorship and importantly teach many of the more impressionable or weak minded that might was right, hasn’t changed and is therefore natural and good. The character of Alf Garnet being a perfect example of the joke going over some of the audience’s head. I remember the early Hollywood epics usually brought hairstyles up to date, cleaned up the slaves and warriors, modernised the dialogue and of course translated into English. British productions of ‘Foreign’ dramas like Catherine (The Great of Russia), Dr Zhivago, and The Life of Christ require considerable interpretation even if they were originally written in English In some cases entire races and ethnic types were either modified or invented. Druids for example. I imagine there are a few genuine attempts to represent Christ and his era accurately, but ‘Life of Brian’ is the only one that comes close, although it was probably much less pleasant in reality. ‘Ben Hur’, I’m not so sure. Considering what uncontrolled soldiers and politicians will do now, I don't doubt it has been much worse.
The authors of the more dated stories, such as Austen might well have ‘blind spots’ and prejudices, and might not even know of some of the issues we now find important. Class, colours and ethnicities tend to be missed by readers if not mentioned, and of course activities such as going to the toilet, engaging in lengthy periods of repetitive or boring work would stall the story. I suppose the really skilled writers manage to portray greater depth of scene without cluttering the page with things we might find less relevant, but I doubt the next generation of readers will have the same viewpoint.
In short, stories are just stories and should have enough strangeness to engage the reader or viewer’s attention, but not so much as to bewilder and distract. If ethnicity and sex was important at the time of the story told, then it makes sense to conform to that if we are to understand the motivation of the characters. If they were important at the time of writing but not at the time referenced then the history should be brought up to date for the modern audience, otherwise they’ll be thinking Carry On Cleo was historically accurate. In that particular case I would only challenge the skin colour, the behaviour was probably about right, if rather less humorous.
Shoulders, ah, thanks for asking, re the socket wrench, my shoulder pain, if I have mentioned it, is suspected to be at least in part rotator cuff damage. It is changing a little, which I see as better sign than just getting worse. It does vary where and when it hurts, and is generally feeling a bit better most of the time. I get the impression it isn’t all tissue damage and may be (largely) referred pain from a nerve being trapped somewhere. I was hoping my appointment in March would illuminate. There was not much information gained but some suggested exercises have helped. The physiotherapist identified possible sites of interest and the route of the relevant nerves. It’s easy enough to work out where the electricity goes in a car, but I can’t disassemble my joints as easily, and the diagnostic equipment too expensive. It probably came from lifting over-heavy objects over the last 50 years so I now buy mechanical devices to take the strain. Half a dozen androids would help.
Neither the x-ray nor the blood test showed anything of interest, but to be honest I didn’t think they would. It’s just part of the hoops you have to jump through to get the attention of a neurologist. I’ll just keep pushing until somebody gives me an appointment. Unless it gets better anyway. Locally there hasn't been much to report. The electricity was interrupted for a few hours on one night, something that used to be quite commonplace. I did think of starting up the generator, but there didn’t seem much point for the short time we wanted light. (10pm to 11pm) In practical terms it only resulted in my looking out all the candles and candle holders. There were plenty, but the searching took longer than the planned interruption or at least that part of it that we were wanting to be awake. It was off from 10pm to 5am. I had the wood burning stove built up to run well into the night and the house warmed up again when the power came back on. It confused the clock radio and the cats. The cats had ignored the lack of lights and TV and had their fire anyway. The clock radio had a bit of a melt-down and took a while to re-set and eventually made a complete recovery. Forgivable as it’s now 40, in fact it’s a wonder that there are any radio stations still using FM.
As to Ukraine, the news which the radio eventually received, I’ll not be nipping over there just now. It looked interesting as a holiday destination once covid is less of a travel restriction. A bit of a disappointment as most of the more noticeable military forces have gone to a lower activity level over the last few years, so this came an unnecessary annoyance considering my general plan for world peace and preparation for the first official alien contact. That might seem a bit of a non sequitur but while I don’t see it as vital, when they do turn up, our having hundreds of local governments, thousands of languages, out-dated religions, self-poisoning industries and tin-pot dictators is going to look rather under prepared. The scurry to peace and order is going to look a bit like when the teacher comes back unexpectedly to find board rubbers and cigarette smoke still in mid air. OK, board rubbers are a bit out of date, but the analogy stands. I am rather glad I didn’t look further into the bargain prices of homes in continental Europe. Ukraine was looking quite nice and then suddenly it's stuffed with burned out, sub standard tanks. The scrap dealers and arms manufacturers will be happy. I can’t affect the process of the war, beyond a few charitable donations, I don’t really use any of the oil or gas but I’m hoping the sanctions now operating will get Putin's supporters to see sense and save us the effort of invading Russia. I think this may be the end of Russia as a world power, and of Putin of course, but it’s his own fault for wanting to be the next Tzar. Obviously I get limited news that I can trust. I assume the same is true of the average Russian.
There’s no telling some people, but I imagine most are probably lacking the full picture.
On the upside we might, when the dust settles, be able to reduce the planetary corruption and go back to a semblance of democracy, ever assuming such a thing really exists. I don’t think it’ll be this year though. The old guard in various power groups still likes the idea of firm Government, which means a bunch of unaccountable elites doing whatever they want and ‘coming down hard’ on dissenters rather than a listening Parliament. Sadly the tendency of politicians to gather power and money has always been flawed by the fact that the people who want power are the ones you should never give it to.
Having been restricted by my shoulder in my heavier hobbies like log splitting and shed building I've taken to some lighter amusements. Clocks and watches were always interesting, although it must be 40 or 50 years since I did any horological tinkering. The equipment has advanced a bit (although my eyes haven't) so I'm finding an ultrasonic cleaner useful and can now afford a decent set of screwdrivers. I doubt I'll develop great skills, but by focusing on unusual and odd versions I can keep interested. A new type for me is the anniversary clock. (The top one)
I don't think I've brought up to date my attempts to install batteries as a way of reducing my carbon foot-print and saving some money. They probably won't save me much but as inflation is going up and banks aren't offering much interest to off-set it, I thought buying this and other equipment will reduce my spending on electricity. This way my savings can do some work as an asset and perhaps a little good for the environment. The trick is avoiding the bandits. MCS certification is our friend here.
I started by looking at a small set-up with an inverter to modify the solar generated electricity into something the batteries can use (about 48volts DC I think) and a single battery of 2.4 kWh capacity that could be expanded. The first company I contacted turned out to be not only incompetent but liars and thieves to boot. I eventually retrieved the money from them after threatening legal action. The second company managed to install a useful system although they still owe me an isolator.
The next bunch were to fit a bigger battery to increase storage capacity, but the electricians took one look at the system and admitted they couldn't integrate theirs with the existing battery, so I'd have to lose 2.4 kWh to gain 5 kWh. Not a very good deal. They also wanted something north of £4k. I retrieved my deposit and started looking further abroad. Literally. A company in the Netherlands had some compatible 3kWh units at about £1k each. They are sitting on the utility room floor now. It would have gone a bit more smoothly but for Brexit (pause to spit) and the banks making a bit of a c*ck-up of the transfer and losing £153 in the process of changing £ to € and back again. I did it by pay-pal eventually as they are more expensive than the banks, had the banks done it right, but reliable and quick. There was of course import duty in the form of VAT costing another £400 but I was expecting that and the deal was still worth it.
So having finally having some decent battery storage it's just a matter of wiring them up. Fortunately there are instruction manuals but I think I'll try to get a MCS accredited electrician. Apart from the safety aspect I wouldn't want to mess up my feed-in-tariff or the batteries themselves.
Nearer home life progresses, we’ve been visited by Ann and Tony, Andrew (no, the other one) and the Essex 4 (SX4). We are I confess fairly self contained if not actually reclusive and don’t have any proof of having caught Covid in any of its many and varied forms. We have a few people in our bubble with co-morbidities and the local infection rate is still rather high. 12,062 in our area apparently and much the same for the last couple of weeks. We remain unsure as to whether we have contracted the virus without symptoms, but it is getting to the point when apart from taking vitamin D, all you can do is wear a mask in public buildings and transport.
It looks as though we'll be travelling at least as far as Edinburgh as Fiona's brother-in-law George has passed on and the funeral is on the 20th of May. There's been quite a few recently, but I guess that's the effect of our friends and relations getting older. Regrettably it applies to us too. As yet the effects of ageing on ourselves has been minimal. I repair rather more slowly and haven't the best memory, Fiona has a bit of trouble with her ankle. It could be worse so you won't hear much grumbling. It did come as a bit of a shock having 70 come over the horizon, I should have seen that coming but my attention was elsewhere. There's some anti ageing technology coming, but they are going to have to get a move on if I'm going to benefit. It's like welding the car chassis, there comes a point when there's nothing to weld onto.
However that's quite enough peering into an uncertain future, or trying to remember a rather foggy past, I've got a couple of motorcycles to move, a bit of preliminary battery wiring and some painting to do. Also there's a cuckoo clock to repair but maybe not run. I don't mind the tick, but wheezy bird noises are not needed.
The sun's come out and the cats want out into it, so I'll go and stand in the unaccustomed light, maybe with a coffee. All in all it is quite acceptable, and the opportunity to stand in the sun, not go to work and consider the next activity is very nice.
I'm going to ignore my 70th and expect everybody else to do so too. I'm going to work on the principle that they can't bury you if you keep moving.
Have a great day