Wilkommen, Bienvenu, Welcome... Sziasztok!

Welcome to The Lotus Position, an intermittent collection of extempore navel gazings, ponderings, whinges, whines, pontifications and diatribes.

Everything is based on a Sample of One: these are my views, my experiences... caveat lector... read the Disclaimer

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter

The Budapest Office - Castro Bisztro, Madach ter
Ponder, Scribble, Ponder (Photo Erdotahi Aron)

Guest Nutter/Kindred Soul: Bill Bailey


Thursday, 28 August 2008

A Big Apple

Friday the 22nd August. We notice that the street parking on Revay utca has been taped off - but the tapes don't look terribly official... nonetheless, something is clearly afoot. We wonder what it will be.

Saturday morning it's a bit noisy a bit too early. Music and a strange tinnily nasal Hungarian voice fill the street. Roused unnecessarily early from slumber I take a peek outside and discover that they are making a film. Closer inspection reveals that Revay has become W45th St in New York and in the middle of the street, in front of the stationary yellow cabs, the flatbed truck with a grand piano on the back (how does that fit into the story?), the NYPD police car and behind NYPD barriers a man is dancing to the aforementioned music... in the spray of what is obviously supposed to be a high pressure water leak (but in best Hollywood style is merely a fire-engine powered fountain).

The pneumatic drill has no hose and the man with the pickaxe is being very careful not to dig up the road - and the dancer really seems to be enjoying himself; it's clearly refreshing in the spray - or it would have been had they been shooting on one of those days when it was 38C here. Today it's a bit chilly and I suspect that there is more acting going on than there might have been.
But the man with the comic-book hero face just keeps on dancing. I wonder what sort of film it is - obviously some sort of feel-good flick. Except that I doubt he does. In and out of the cold water he goes. Action. Happy dancing. Cut. Cold shivering and a vigorous towelling down and maybe a shudder of relief as he steps into the warmth of the hot-air blower specially provided. Over and over and over again. Art hurts.
By early evening the poor chap has been done in long shot, tracking shot, and close up from so many angles they finally have whatever they want. What do they want? What is this "feel-good movie" going to be about? The presence of the green-screen and through-the-windshield camera work suggests some gritty dialogue and tense action in and around the police car. Perhaps dancing-man was a water-terrorist who deliberately sabotaged the water supply and was only dancing in celebration at his success and New York's finest have nabbed him at last.
I'm dying to know what this is all about and grab the big camera and very long lens to take a peek at the shooting script. The grand piano clearly plays a significant role in the story but I am none the wiser.
At long last I spot another copy of the script on a table about50m away... a tricky shot this but there it is. It's an ad, a Diet Coke ad.

I still have no idea what the piano's about, but the rest of it makes sense now. In the sweltering heat (of about 20C) Coke refreshes, although side effects may include St Vitus' dance...

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Fermi/GLAST First Light All Sky Map

If you are having trouble finding the images (and the animations that belong with them) that many sites have reproduced they are here.

If there are links buried at the NASA GLAST portal or at Stanford I couldn't find them...

Gamma Rays - Cool Hot (Obscure) Stuff

Monday, 18 August 2008

A Man, A Plan, A Camera

Yes, it's time for an update on that serious event on the Budapest calendar... Sziget!

This year I shall be mostly not going to Sziget (if it's not already over it will be shortly) - at least compared to other years when Sziget was a week-long festival: this year it is only 5 days and we only went for two... but it was 14 hours the first day and ~11 hours the second. We get our money's worth!

So, off we go... first the natty sunglasses courtesy of Iguana...

Then a nod to the strong European influence everywhere these days... the "European Urban Art Centre..."

But, what I really came for was the music. Thank you Dylan for observing - indirectly - that I have the musical tastes of a paleontologist as the bands I wanted to see - the Sex Pistols and R.E.M. - were "dinosaurs".

A well preserved fossil is shown below, a specimen of Rottenus Johannii, if I am not mistaken

Way back when Mr Rotten was vociferous in his belief that there was "No future" - 30 years on the failure of his initial prediction does not deter him from its endless repetition. Is it perhaps post-ironic nihilism - with a twist? Are we still vacant? Did god only save The Queen because the Pistols asked him to? We shall never know. It's been a fun 30 years... punk, war, new romantic, war, retro, war, other stuff, and more war. And through it all, Johnny Rotten - a veritable icon of stability and the establishment.

And then, a propos of nothing much, there is the strange, but so typically French attitude to dogs to report... "If your dog is lost..." it says beneath the "Found-again Dogs" headline [Query: if "lost and found" is "objets trouves", why do dogs get to be retrouve'd? eh?]

But that's a side issue. Note the phrasing beneath the headline. Not, you notice, "If you have lost your dog" but if your dog "is lost"... as in "temporarily uncertain of position" to use the aviator's euphemism, or bewildered by the absurdity of a world in which people stand on sticks (see below) instead of fetching them. If either of these apply to your dog - or other companion animal - I suggest you buy it a satnav and/or discourage it from reading Sartre and Camus.

This next snap sequence began with "Does the moon look odd to you...?" (and went on, obviously, to "Ooh! Look! Something is eating the moon! Maybe Ragnarok is coming!"

But it's not all linguistic and astronomical fun here at Sziget; when walking on the ground is just too easy why not stick yourself three feet above the ground (~1m). Takes some getting used to but there is more than a little satisfaction in this generally pointless exercise... it's just fun! Must think about a unicycle sometime.

But now, back to the music...

The REM main-event on the main stage - enhanced by the coincidental partial eclipse of the moon - was somewhat diminished for me by the cold. Friday it had been scorchingly hot (38C) and so on Saturday (despite 60% chance of rain... which never materialised) I went again in shorts and short-sleeved shirt in expectation of hot-wet and occasional sheltering in marquees and other beer dispensing locations; as it happened it was cold-dry, and by 22:30 my teeth were chattering.

Still, got to sing "Losing my religion" with 20-30 thousand others.

We did branch out into other musical genres. Apocalyptica is a fine upstanding Finnish, er, band of some description - three long-haired, Finnish rock-gods playing cover versions of Metallica (and Grieg) on cellos. Damn good actually - go and see them if you get a chance. And then Punish Yourself a fine upstanding French group with bare-breasted fire dancer cum angle-grinder workbench. Then there was Mass Hysteria - also French (Ah! Que les francais adorent Le Rock!) - with lots of energy and a willingess to take on all comers... Bush, Sarkozy, the EU etc. etc. etc.

What else?

Oh yes - bungee-cord ballet courtesy of a rather spectacular show called Carillon 3. It begins with a bungee-monolith...

Dancers arrive dangling from the large crane I had noticed parked suspiciously nearby and then proceeded to do all sorts of contortions on, in and around the monolith...

occasionally with umbrellas.

And that as they say, is nearly all there is to say apart from the fun to be had on the rock-your-own-boat thingie (no pics yet)... the Vietnamese water-puppet-theatre... the outsize table & charis and crib (thanks to the anonymous Frenchman for the show...), hats (of course), and last, but not least, the kinetic sculptures near the Luminarium (which we've seen before so didn't bother to endure the enormous queue for this year - but if you get a chance, go see it...)

Thursday, 14 August 2008


Sometime in the last five, ten, fifteen minutes I guess, "IT" passed the 200,000 word mark.

That's two hundred thousand words.

Two hundred thousand.

Two Hundred Thousand!


(don't worry, I'll get over it shortly - and no, the 200,000 isn't made up of 66,666 repetitions of "Oh My God!")

The Book - Big, Beautiful, Wordy Stuff!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Wormholes, Warp Drives and Time Machines - Part III

[You have read the Disclaimer, haven't you?]

The assiduous reader (that's you, O Sister Mine) who has been following the theme of Wormholes, Warp Drives and Time Machines has of course read Parts I and II - everyone else may wish to catch up...

So, dear Sister, take nieces Scarlet & Em on your knee and read on... I'm sure they'll enjoy this!

The story so far: many who probably know better than I am claiming to, say that one can construct a time machine by moving one mouth of a wormhole at very high velocity relative to the other (the closer the velocity is to the speed of light the better if we want a significant time machine). Time dilation - as per Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity - will then cause a time difference to occur between the two ends, but because the two ends are linked this makes a time machine (see Part II for how this is supposed to work).

My naive objection to this is that a separation in time is in fact a separation in spacetime - and the key words here are in and spacetime. The implied rhetorical question is: can one apply things like the Lorentz transformations to spacetime itself rather than to the separations of things and events in it. To which the unequivocal (but possibly wrong) answer has to be: No!

But' it's time for a diversion. Let's get practical - another little experiment will help illustrate the concepts. For this you will need a lump of some malleable substance, such as dough (e.g. pizza dough - in which case, make plenty in anticipation of pat IV) ; some superglue, and a finger.
  • Take lump of dough and make a hole in it, slightly larger than your chosen finger

    Look at it for a moment - you've got a torus, a thing with a hole in in it. Now, flatten and stretch it slightly to make a fat pancake - but don't close the hole (it's still a torus - they don't have to be doughnut shaped: anything with one hole in it is topologically a torus) and then imagine that the dough is spacetime.

    You can go from one side of the pancake to the other one of two ways: you can either avoid the hole and go to the edge and round, or you can go through the hole. The hole is our experimental wormhole because, if you happen to be closer to the hole than to the edge, the distance you need to travel to get to the "same point" on the other side is less if you go through the hole. Note however (for future reference) that whether you go around or through, if you keep going you can get back to where you started - and are still facing the same way.

  • Now, apply superglue to your chosen finger in a narrow ring around the first joint
  • Insert finger into the pre-pared hole and squeeze the dough onto the ring of superglue
You should now be superglued to the dough. And since the dough represents spacetime and the hole in the dough the wormhole, we can simulate moving the wormhole by moving our finger. Try it - gently.

As you move your finger, dough piles up against the forward edge of your finger and gets stretched everywhere else. If a real wormhole is going to move, it will do something similar - or we will have find a way to stop dough piling up in front and stretching thin behind.

The reason for saying that spacetime "piles up" or "stretches out" and that a moving wormhole has to deal with such things is that one cannot create and destroy spacetime - there's no such thing as "Cut and Paste" spacetime", no "delete" let alone "insert" (unless perhaps you are a theoretical cosmological topologist. Don't be shy in coming forward). However, one can stretch and squeeze space(time), thereby changing the separations between things, which, strangely is all that gravity is about really.

So a small digression is in order, and without reproducing and trying to explain the Einstein field equations... Oh what they hell, there are are, courtesy of Wikipedia (see Einstein Field Equations) - because it is one of the most beautiful equations in physics.

What this this says is this. The left hand side of the equation, the "G" thing, is The Einstein Tensor - it is a (nonlinear) function of the metric, which is that thing that tells us how bendy and twisty spacetime is at every point. The right hand side of the equation, the "T" thing, is the Stress-Energy Tensor, which describes the density and flux of energy due to everything at a point except gravity. So the bendiness and twistiness of space(time) is determined by the matter and energy in it, or as I believe John Wheeler so beautifully put it "Space tells matter how to move, matter tells space how to curve".

Without matter etc. spacetime would be flat, but put in some ordinary mass and it bends in just the right way to produce what we previously thought of as the mysterious force of gravity. The usual analogy for this is a bowling ball on a trampoline: the big heavy ball causes a dent towards which any peas, marbles, or other small round objects therefore move (don't overthink the analogy, it will just make your head hurt). A nice little animation from YouTube shows the Sun denting spacetime, earth circling around and the way that light also gets bent by the gravitational dent - until the sun "disappears", at which point, there being no "T" thing, all the curvature disappears...

The key point here is that without the "T" thing to keep spacetime bent and/or twisted it will flatten out, thus, returning finally to our wormhole, we need some T in the wormhole to squeeze stuff up on the leading edge and some effectively "anti-T" to stretch it out behind.

Now, I have previously drawn an analogy between this stretching and squeezing with that of the Alcubierre "warp drive", which also squeezes up the space in front (so you have less to travel across) and stretches it out behind (so that space overall doesn't get an overall pinch in it.

At that time and rather unfortunately for the eternal optimist, it occurred to me that the Alcubierre drive couldn't work, because I had assumed that the whole point of this Faster Than Light warp drive was that you could point somewhere, intone "Engage!", and then be off, and that therefore the warp bubble was somehow propagated from its initial position just like a wave. This clearly wouldn't work, I thought, because when the metric does change the effects propagate at the speed of light (speed of gravity = speed of light) and what would be the point of an "FTL" drive when you had to wait four years to sail across the four light years that had then been reduced to a mere, say, centifurlong.

And indeed it seems I was not the first to raise an eyebrow in Alcubierre's direction - but since they know better, it seems the experts never for a moment thought the metric change would be propagated... so they said it wouldn't work because you'd have to traverse the entire route in advance in order to deposit suitable amounts of T and anti-T along the way. It turns out that the Wikipedia article on the Alcubierre drive makes this point (see "Difficulties), quoting Krasnikov and Dr David Coule's work to the effect that "there's no warp drive without warp drive" (and thanks to DHC for providing a copy of his original paper).

Or, to spoil a rather nice line, if we do ever get any sort of warp drive we will only be able "To boldly go where at least one other has been before."

However, at least my intuition is not clearly leading me astray, so maybe the dénouement (when it arrives) will be worth the wait, though if I have not in fact drifted a long way off track the geodesics of Mr Stuff's idea space have clearly been severely bent bythe abnormal density and flux of... well, I suppose, Stuff, so I should probably let you digest this properly before going on...

Spacetime - Bendy, Twisty, Wavy Stuff

Thursday, 7 August 2008


I said I would try to work out why privacy is important, so here's a brief answer. It's overly simplistically expressed but this is a blog, not "An Essay Concerning..."

The distinctive quality of sentience is the capacity for choice; to interfere with another's choice, where that choice affects none but the individual concerned is, in general, wrong. "Privacy", being shorthand for the freedom of the individual to choose what information about themselves is known to others, is important and must be defended because what we choose to tell reflects and shapes our relationships to others and affects our vulnerability to exploitation by others.

Failure to respect another's privacy is therefore wrong insofar as it takes away this freedom to choose.

You'll find it spelled out in more detail in "IT"... eventually.

Ethical Stuff. Political Stuff.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

That's all right then...

Some time back BT ran what some consider an illegal trial of Phorm, a system that carries out "deep packet inspection" of internet traffic, i.e. it looks at what you are sending or receiving, not merely who you are sending to or receiving from, as a way of "targeting" advertising - i.e. telling you about things you are more likely to be interested in.

Now, although the European Commission has told UKgov to deal with the issue, there is question of what we might expect - and the answer is "Not a lot" I fear.

According to this BBC news item "...the Information Commission ruled in May that no action would be taken against the telco due to the difficult nature of explaining to consumers what it was doing."

What??? I can conceive of many things, but imagining greater stupidity on the part of the IC is difficult... the "difficulty of explaining" has nothing to do with the ethics of the action in the absence of consent; if it was "too difficult" to explain, then under no circumstances whatsoever could informed consent be obtained and so it should never have happened.

Consider the ramifications of this irresponsible pronouncement: a financial advisor, a medical practitioner, your local garage etc. would be given carte blanche to do whatever they like if it could be argued that what they intended to do with your money, your body, your car etc. was beyond your poor, limited powers of comprehension. Perhaps the government could pass an Enabling Act to introduce complex rules and regulations on anything they like without further Parliamentary scrutiny on the basis that what they might want to do would overtax our poor representatives brains.

I'm not a great believer in conspiracies, I am however utterly convinced that sheer stupidity on the part of officialdom is the bane of the 21st century, and the more power placed in the hands of the stupid, the more likely it is that something will go seriously wrong. I shan't even mention how much personal data the UK government has lost in the last year or two...

I propose a principle: anything anyone may wish to do that affects another and which a reasonable person might reasonably anticipate an objection to is expressly forbidden without consent. [I'll tidy that up later... just aiming to get it off my chest for now.]

Would the man on the Clapham Omnibus (including but not limited to Kekule) be happy to know that as soon as he got on the bus, he was bugged and that his subsequent conversation with his wife, mother, mistress, bank manager... would be used to "provide him with more relevant advertising" on the LCD ad panels in the bus on the way home? I think not.

I shall work on a more fundamental philosophical reason why privacy is important - the usual "Get Out of Jail Free" card of "if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear" is deeply offensive... all I have to do is to work out why...

Infuriating Stuff