Friday, 25 June 2010

Night hike

It’s 22:30. We’ve just had a ring on the doorbell and found four young scouts on a night expedition. They had come about two miles from the Rignall Road and were not quite sure where they were. They are walking through the night and are challenged to get as far east as possible. They were on their own but were instructed to phone periodically. They obviously had done so because when I took them back to the footpath to set them off in the right direction, their scout leaders arrived.

What a great way to give the youngsters an adventure and expose them to the real world at a manageable risk – at least I assume the leaders were on top of this. I was talking to a mother the other day; she was lamenting the change of attitude: when she was young, not so long ago, she would just set off on her bike to find friends and arrange a game of tennis or a swim whereas today everything seems to be organised and scheduled. Well it’s not – at least for this gang of scouts.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

South Africa

In the press a lot at the moment! SA has clearly come a long way since the apartheid days but has still a long way to go. I hope the football will bring further improvements. I remember a TV programme in the bad old days when a London school sent some pupils – a multi-racial group, of course – on an educational trip. It was a very moving program, some of the students having difficulty in understanding why they couldn’t swim with the whole group – or even use the same loos. I have an abiding memory of the last shot in the programme when the camera panned round the group waiting at the airport and then turned towards one of their minders who immediately put his hand up over the lens.

On her blog, Practising the Presence of God, Archdeacon Karen is having 25 days of prayer for the diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman in the Northern Cape that is linked with Oxford. Karen explains the background on her posting of 27 May. Images of South Africa abound and the contrasts are still stark. I found another blog of SA townships – I have no idea whether it’s typical but take a look at it here

Do support SA by following Karen’s blog at

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Probability and Life

It’s a while since I did a vaguely scientific entry but a few things have occurred this week. Firstly the Reith Lectures have started: Sir Martin Rees’s first lecture suggested that challenges facing science in the 21st century are much more profound than previously: GM foods, stem-cell research and so on present many ethical problems; scientific and engineering developments in the past were much simpler and their use much more obvious – although I guess the Manhatten Project would fall into the modern category. Then last night I was idly watching a program about design. A claim on this is that things as we know them are being subsumed into generic electronics: TVs, radios, music players, telephones, computers, cameras, books all had their own identity. Now they are all merging into one basic format where the physical design is minimal and the user interface is key. What’s next?

The next event was a series of phone calls on Friday. Probability theory is fascinating and often yields difficult-to-understand results. Have you heard the birthday conundrum? The chance of two people in a group of 23 having the same birthday is greater than 50%. So next time you’re in a cocktail party, ask around! Another strange probability fact is that the most likely time for a truly random event to occur is immediately following the previous occurrence of such an event. So don’t feel at ease flying immediately after a crash; and if air crashes occur at regular intervals you should suspect some intervention rather than random occurrences. I had a good example of this with phone calls on Friday. As some of you know, we divert our home phone to my mobile so calls go to the mobile if we don’t answer or if the home phone is in use. I think the phone calls we receive are random – although the people who try to fix my computer or award me a cruise seem to call at regular intervals! Twice on Friday I received a call on my mobile while talking to someone on my home phone – I think this proves that the calls are random and that probability theory is correct!

The last scientific reminder this week was one of the series of 2-minute talks on Radio 4. Brian Eno described the Game of Life which was invented by mathematician John Conway in 1970. I had forgotten this but it reminded me of long discussions and fascination with work colleagues when it came out in the Scientific American. 1970 was well before personal computers and the internet so it was quite difficult to play at the time but these days it’s very simple – have a play here.

The Reith Lectures can be heard here.