Lyall Watson

Listening to Last Word I felt sad to hear Lyall Watson's name mentioned. He died on 25th June this year, aged 69. When I was a teenager in the 80s, LW meant a great deal to me. I read a few of his books at that time: Dreams of Dragons, Gifts of Unknown Things, Neophilia, The Romeo Error and The Nature Of Things. I was also heavily influenced by an interview with him in The Sunday Times. Then more recently I read Supernature and Dark Nature.

For me at that time, LW in his life and work gave me an alternative, a chink of light in the gloom. I had been brought up a Christian, but was learning science at school. Prayer, souls, miracles, heaven and hell didn't feature in physics.

The problem was that my entire world view depended on Christianity, and was being undermined by science. I was psychologically incapacitated for about a year and a half while I wrestled with this relentless doubt.

In the end I realized that science and Christianity were incompatible, and that current science offered the best explanation for how the world worked. I started to describe myself as an atheist.

LW was important to me because he was a scientist who seemed to offer some hope. I'm a bit embarassed to admit to having had a hero, but Lyall Watson was a hero to me.



I've used GNU/Linux since (February?) 1999. I started with Slackware, and now I'm running Ubuntu. I think Linux is fantastic, but one thing always irritates me.

Whereas MS-Windows has a 'Program Files' directory with a sub-directory for each application, Ubuntu stores application files across the file-system according to type, eg. /etc, /var/log, /bin. I find the Windows approach much easier to work with. The Ubuntu method means it takes much longer to find where things are. For log files it may be easy, but where is the webapps directory for apache-tomcat?


Science Cafe: Extra-solar planets

Last time it got to the end without me getting a chance to ask my question. This time at the Science Cafe, mine was the first question: 'What do you make of the Fermi Paradox?'. The speaker's answer was that there are other civilizations, but they're all too far away. I think that the various answers to the Fermi Paradox are interesting, but I find none of them convincing. What's your answer to the Fermi Paradox?


Reversible computing

I'm trying to understand reversible computing. My friend Bill made the comment that it may well be of interest to academics, but it has no appreciable effect in the real world. So here's a rough calculation for the power an irreversible computer needs that's operating right at the Landauer limit. For each bit the energy used per switch is T * k * ln 2. Assume a 2 GHz processor, 5 GB of RAM, and room temperature:

power = 293 * 1.38 * 10^-23 * ln 2 * 2 * 10^9 * 5 * 10^9

~ 0.01 W

we can times this by 100 because k*ln 2 is just the theoretical minimum that can never be reached.

~ 1 W

So with Moore's law, this limit will become increasingly significant.

I've no idea if this calculation is correct, I just made it up to prove my own point! Can someone correct me please?


Two-rate electricity meter (continued)

Good Energy have replied to my question about a two rate meter. I can have one for free if I commit to staying with Good Energy for at least two years. The only thing is that comparing the tariffs, the night rate is a lot lower, but the standing charge and day rate is a bit higher. Can someone who's good at maths tell me which is the cheapest?


Trowbridge Central By-Election

I live in Trowbridge Central, and tomorrow there's a by-election for the Town Council and the District Council. Maybe I've not looked hard enough, but I couldn't find any info about the election on the Town Council website. I'd have expected to see a list of the candidates at the very least.

The parties themselves are very varied in the information they provide. The Conservatives had quite a long piece on their candidate, and a useful list of by-elections. The Liberal Democrats had nothing, and neither did the greens.

Please correct me if you know different.

Who am I going to vote for? I'd like to reward the Conservatives for actually communicating with the electorate, but I'll probably vote Liberal Democrat.

Akira and The Beach

These are two separate things, the film 'Akira', and 'The Beach' by Alex Garland. It's not like Jonah and the Whale.

I remember everyone talking about The Beach, and then there was the film and the song. I never seemed to read the book or see the film, but I heard Pure Shores on the radio quite a bit. My brother had the book and said it was good, but I remained a bit of a grumpy skeptic.

I then heard about Alex Garland having writer's block. Is this true? This actually pushed me slightly in the direction of reading TB. Then it somehow came up in conversation with Anita at work. She said it was one of her favourite books, she brought it in.

It really is enjoyable, and a bit shocking. Shades of Lord of the Flies perhaps? The protagonist is not someone I'd be friends with in real life. The narrator presents the tale as an allegory of the Vietnam war. I think Thomas Hobbes would have regarded it as a story of what happens to people in 'the state of nature' when there's no Leviathan. Or perhaps Sal is the Leviathan. You've got me confused now.

Let's move on to the Animated film Akira. Surely I can't go wrong with a cartoon. Can I? My highlight is when the hero has hallucinations. I don't think I've ever had an actual hallucination, but it seemed like you could show that bit of the film to people to give them an idea of what it's like to have a mental illness that grotesquely distorts reality.

Now I've got to return the book to Anita, and it's in a poor state after being carried round in my bag for ages. Hope she's okay about that...


Two-rate electricity meter

I've written to Good Energy...
Hello, my friend has a day/night meter and gets cheap electricity at night. I've just got a single rate meter and so can't take advantage of the cheap electricity. I'm an existing Good Energy customer. What are my options?


Renting my garden as an allotment

I'd like to see my back garden put to use. I have in mind an allotment. The problem is that I haven't got the interest or enthusiasm to actually do the hard work of growing vegetables.

So my plan is to rent out my garden as an allotment, through the district council. Apparently there's a shortage of allotments, and the district council already has a scheme set up. I'll let you know what happens.

I'm giving this the CO2 footprint label because:
  • I wouldn't have to mow the back garden every week, which causes CO2 emissions.
  • Food grown locally should be less CO2 intensive.