The Impossible Dream

It’s been a hot day in Cape Town, and it’s been a busy one too. I would love to be sitting at home in front of a warm TV right now, but it’s Monday evening and it’s Dodgeball training, so I’m out in my car park. Given that I am out here, I would love to be sitting in my car park with the windows down and the fresh breeze blowing the heat of the day away.

Sadly, there appears to be a raw sewage issue somewhere in the vicinity. It’s literally nauseating.

Anyway, not much I can do about the thick pooey odour enveloping everything here.

So here’s a video I watched earlier. A great tale, 17 years in the making, some amazing videography, and some important lessons about recognising when it’s time to give up.

We all have our impossible dreams and we all have our limits. How we choose (or are able) to balance one against the other, and how much value we place on each will likely define our successes. It doesn’t have to be running marathons. For example, Forest Drive (Bishopscourt, not Pinelands) kicked my arse again today. That’s a 750m bit of asphalt, not 42km of American city roads, but that’s my current nemesis. But I’ll return on a cooler – but equally steep day – to fight back.

And I will beat it. Or I’ll give up.

One of the two.

One For Brian

Leafing back through previous blog posts, I suddenly found myself dipping into my Brian Micklethwait archive. It’s been almost two years since Brian died, and even longer than that since our missed connection in London, pre-Covid.

But I did think of him on my recent visit there, and very deliberately took this very Micklethwaitian image as I was crossing the Golden Jubilee Bridge on that Sunday morning.

It has all the elements: iconic London, bridges, several (or more) Big Things and so many cranes.

I think he would have liked it.
And it’s a Quota Photo as well. Perfect.

Not much more to add, really.

Day 576 – Sad news

Long time friend of the blog, Brian Micklethwait has died.

Brian was diagnosed with lung cancer late last year and died last week.

I loved that he blogged about whatever he wanted to: whatever had interested him that day, no matter how mundane it might seem to others. He blogged for himself, and his was a very personal blog, simply for that reason. And amongst his regular photographs of photographers, London’s Big Things, local statues or the bridges over the Thames, there were the occasional shop window selfies.

He was described in one of the tributes I read as:

a beacon of sensible thought…

And that’s pretty accurate.

While we didn’t always see eye to eye on some issues, we exchanged emails, blog posts, photographs and ideas for over 12 years. He is mentioned in no fewer than 58 posts (59 now) on 6000 miles… and he will be sadly missed.

Day 310 – Another poo mystery solved by science

Via Brian Micklethwait, here’s another one from the category “Who the hell asked?”

Just what we all needed to know. I can finally sleep easy tonight.

Apparently, it’s all to do with the last metre of the intestine and not the shape of the extrusion point. Although, presumably the extrusion point must also be that sort of shape though anyway because isn’t there something about a square peg in a round hole or something?

Ag, it’s actually fine. I really don’t need to know. Really.

There are some delicious little comments in the article, such as the name of the journal in which this study was published: Soft Matter.

It’s not all about shit, either. I was enthralled to read about Phase transition characterization of poly(oligo(ethylene glycol)methyl ether methacrylate) brushes using the quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation by Guntner et al., and really enjoyed the incredible work of Hoeger and Ursell at the University of Oregon, demonstrating Steric scattering of rod-like swimmers in low Reynolds number environments. Who knew?

Anyway, what is the reason that wombats have cube-shaped poo?

Asked why wombats have this feature, Carver said one theory was that wombats, with their strong sense of smell, communicate with each other via faeces and that the cube shape helps prevent the faeces from rolling away.

The researchers also found that cube-shaped faeces on an eight degree slope rolled far less than spherical-shaped models.

Well, I’m glad someone has done the hard research yards and discovered that cubes roll less than spheres. Absolutely groundbreaking stuff. Dice manufacturers will be livid when they read that.
All this time and they’ve been wasting their time working with cubes instead of prolonging our anticipation by using spherical-shaped models:

“Will it be a three…? Will it…? Will it…? Ah. It’s not really stopping.
I might just go and grab a quick drink while we wait until it’s done.
Hang on! There! It’s a two!

 

And it’s also a six.”

Actually, perhaps not.

But if it was so very important for your poo to stay where you left it, why would you evolve:

…big changes in the thickness of muscles inside the intestine, varying between two stiffer regions and two more flexible regions… in addition to the drying out of the faecal material in the distal colon.

Anyway. The paper is here should you wish to read further:

Of course they do.

All your questions will be answered there, aside from the huge, gaping omission: which way do they face when they are doing it?

Day 284 – Catching up

I said yesterday that my plan was to do a bit of catching up and I did make a start on that, but I didn’t get too far because of one thing and another. I started, obviously, with a run down the blogroll and that was where I came across some rather shocking and upsetting news:

This was from Brian Micklethwait’s blog (the new one, because the old one stopped working properly). He posted it on the 28th December, but as I have mentioned already, I’m only now beginning to get to the internet things that the Agulhas internet wouldn’t let me read last week.

Sorry.

His letter follows on below that introduction and is typically chatty, informative and candid as Brian’s posts always have been. It’s full of honesty over what he has done and what he is facing, but there’s also optimism there, which of course there should be: having a diagnosis – no matter how bad that news may seem – is the first step to being treated and recovering – a road along which I hope Brian is already progressing.

Even if you don’t know of Brian or read his blog, you should click through on this link and take two minutes to read and recognise the courage and the humility of what he writes.

The only part of his letter that I’m going to share here is this:

But, let me now tell you what would really boost my morale.

Tell each other which of my writings you have most liked, and do so just as publicly as you feel inclined. Blogs postings, blog comments, social media, the lot. My circumstances are now no secret. If I do die soon, I would greatly prefer to do this in the knowledge that various things that I have said and written over the years have left behind them a trail of enlightenment and entertainment, and might be fondly remembered, for a while at least.

I know from personal experience just how much of a role morale plays in these situations, and so I’m very happy to do my little bit here.

I’m going to divide this up into two parts. Here’s the first.

There are a lot of specialist blogs out there, concentrating their efforts upon one particular subject: geography, photography, politics, technology, art, sport, or design – and then others even more niche that aim for all the myriad sub-genres within each of those categories. If those are well-written, informative, interesting blogs, then they will always attract an audience who share the same passion and interest for those particular subjects.

It’s far harder to write a popular blog about nothing in particular. For people to want to read that, you have to produce well-written, interesting, informative posts and you have to be ten times better at it because in all likelihood, you cannot rely on the immediate engagement of recognition and a shared interest in the subject matter.

I like to think that I mostly do ok with that sort of thing, and I think that Brian also does a great job. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually matter.

And here’s why.

One of the first posts I mentioned on here from BrianMicklethwaitDotCom (the old one when it was still working properly) is one (about shelves!) with a line in it that prompted a complete change in my blogging mindset, and a line that I have returned to again and again and again over the years:

“my most important reader is me”

Indeed:

…every so often I have to remind you people that my most important reader is me, in a few months or years time… this will warm the cockles of my faltering heart, the way me burbling on about the Cold War ending, and what a Good Thing that is, never could. Oooh. I see that in April 2008, I was of the opinion that the Cold War ending was Good. Well, twiddledidee.

And he was absolutely right, wasn’t he? Because now, he can look back over the past 16 years and warm his cockles by remembering and reliving his thoughts at any particular moment during that time. And they don’t have to be hugely important thoughts on hugely important subjects. In fact, it’s probably better when they’re not. They might just be thoughts about the weather, the cricket, the new bus service or a new building in London. They might even be thoughts about shelves. Whatever.

And if people want to join in: well, they can. And they can dip in and out, enjoy, be enlightened and entertained. But blogging for oneself, not caring too much about who chooses to read, agree or disagree with what you are writing – making your most important reader you – means that when you take some time to look back over what you have written, you are absolutely fulfilling the purpose of all that effort you have put in over the years.

That’s a fundamental message which underlies a style of blogging, one which Brian has clearly followed extremely successfully over the years. But the second (shorter) part of this post is about how he has found a few… “different” ways of observing everyday things and made them his own. Because never again will I be able to see “roof clutter” or a “thinned photo“, watch a “billion monkey” “photoing” a landmark – perhaps one of London’s “Big Things” – and not think of Brian.

And when struggling for inspiration for a post on any given day, I will always happily fall back into the welcoming easy-way-out of a “quota photo“.

To the outsider, none of these phrases will mean very much, like some sort of in-joke in a comedy series you’ve never watched. But when you have been reading for years and years*, Brian’s ability to share the mundane and yet keep it fresh, relevant and interesting by dropping it into categories he has created, is pretty special and just another reason that he keeps his regulars coming back for more.

 

Reading back over the past 1000-odd words (oops – well done if you’re still reading this far), this reads like something of an awkward homage. But I’m actually fine with that, because I’ve very much enjoyed reading Brian’s blogs for 15-odd years, and I look forward to reading many more.

And if ever there was a time to let him know, then this would certainly be it.

Get well soon, Brian.
My thoughts are with you from… oh… you know… several thousand miles away.

 

* and I, along with many others, have.