Friday, 28 November 2008

QED. Are you sitting comfortably? You'll need to be...

Well, are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

A big thank you to the British Broadcasting Corporation for that. The opening lines to the daily 'Listen with mother' in the days when radio was King, before TV and film corrupted us with THEIR images, THEIR representations! When, as children, we could dream our own dreams, see our own characters not just a superfluous by-product of corporate greed. The closest thing to reading that it was possible to get! When you couldn't read. Just use your ears, not your eyes!

Also a little apology for the tardiness of this post. (a) I got sidetracked by a little triangle :) (b) the muse has been dragging me kicking and screaming towards faerie again and (c) MG is tearing his hair out over work :(. So...........

So, where does the photon go when it leaves the emitter? Well, it's not in a straight line to where it is pointed! :) The photon travels by all available paths. However quantum mechanics predicts that it will invariably travel in a straight line to its 'target'. How come? Well, we're back to good ol' Dick's arrows :) Told you they were useful!

If we take a very simplified look at the possible path(s) of the photon through spacetime, we might see something like this


This sort of translates to the following 'arrows' added together:

As you can see, the probability (amplitudes) at the beginning and the end tend to cancel themselves out (they just wander around without going anywhere) and what counts are the arrows in the middle which reinforce each other when you 'add' them all together and actually go somewhere. When you draw the single arrow (as before) between the start of arrow one and the end of arrow 'n' ('n' being an indeterminate number, however many arrows you choose, in our earlier example it was just two) you get the 'straight line' path we observe.

Now, I hear you say, that's just an over complicated way of saying light travels in a straight line, the way of least resistance, or better, the way of least energy. Light never uses more energy to get from (a) to (b) than is absolutely necessary. In that way light is very similar to the girl (or guy) at the supermarket checkout and explains why it takes 10 minutes to fill up your cart but 30 minutes to check it out. Always the least energy to move the cereal from (a) to (b).

So why do we need this complicated arrangement of the photon going by all available paths when we could just assume that light travels in a straight line (the dotted line in the diagram above, in case you've forgotten). Diffraction gratings, that's why!

Imagine, if you will, that we leave the experiment exactly as it is but we chop 2/3rds of the glass on the right away so we are just left with a little bit of the left hand side of the glass, where the arrows all meander around, going nowhere. We etch some lines at a particular spacing, it's different for red light and blue light. Then what? Obviously, no reflection! There's no glass in the middle to reflect from! WRONG! It's greatly reduced but the receptor at (b) DOES get hit by the odd photon (and it's predictable from the probability amplitudes) that manages to get itself out of the tangle at the left end and is not then cancelled by the now non existent tangle at the other end. So a photon does travel by ALL available paths! Try explaining that with conventional wave optics!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

I don't know if this is what you are looking for but.........

There now follows a brief interlude in the discussion on QED while I attenpt to travel back in time to an era when short flannel trousers were de riguer, you could still buy powdered egg and no-one who lived in cities had ever seen a cow 'on the hoof', so to speak. Hot running water was non existent, we still cooked by candle light and all the washing went through the mangle before being hung in soot laden air to dry.

A little problem. How to calculate the length of one side of a scalene triangle without using cosine formula, which is what I think your comment refers to.

Here's the triangle. If it's not what you need or think is useful, you've exhausted my ingenuity (and my memory) :)

Angles at A and C are 55 and 40 degrees respectively. (Someone might want to do the sums, I just measured mine with my wee draughting table and it looks about right.

OK. The length of AB is 5 units, the length of AC is 8 units, crucially the height HB is 4 units. (Looking familiar?) HB forms a right angle with AC.

The unknown quantity is BC.

To calculate:

AB squared is the sum of AH squared + HB squared ie 25 (5) = 16 (4) + 9 (3) AH = 3
Therefore HC = 5 (8 - 3)

HC squared = 25 + HB squared = 16 gives us BC as the square root of 41, about 6.4, give or take.

Of course this all changes when we start to accelerate towards the speed of light and all those nasty Lorentz contractions start messing up the arithmatic. So whatever you do, don't under any circumstances try and teach this to tachions. It also breaks down a bit at the Planck length, but doesn't everything? Including me?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

QED, really fast clocks and little pointy arrows

One of the very real problems with quantum mechanics is the maths :) All those equations, path integrals, Dirac matrices and so on. However, what our friend Mr Feynman did was to 'replace' those with nice little pictures :0 Kind of him, don't you think? These little pictures are the pointy arrows of the title.

Imagine if you will a clock, one whose hand rotates 30,000 times a second, or thereabouts. It should be fairly obvious why it rotates so fast; the speed of light is very fast. Release a pure 'red' photon from a source which is directed somewhere. Start the clock. Measure where the hand is on your clock at the precise instant it hits the target. You have a little arrow pointing in some direction. The length of the arrow is determined by the square of its length (Unfortunately, neither MG nor I 'know' why it's the square, it just is in the equations - the maths - of which the arrows are simply a graphical representation.)

Now imagine a pure red light source situated at (a) which can fire 1 photon at a time (they do exist!) and a detector located at (b) with a sheet of glass located under them with another detector located at (c). Start firing photons and see where they are detected. After a sizable number of photons have been fired, we discover that 4% of the photons go to (b) and 96% go all the way through the glass and end up at (c). OK, so the length of the arrows has to be 0.2 (0.2x0.2=0.04 or 4%!).

(a) __________________ (b)


OK. Let's increase the thickness of the glass, does that make a difference? You'd think it wouldn't, wouldn't you? The photons must be bouncing off the top surface of the glass, yes? Well they're not and the thickness makes a difference. With the thicker glass the result is that 8% reach the detector at (b) and only 92% make it all the way to (c). So it's not just the surface that's reflecting is it? So let's make an assumption. The underside reflects as well. So it has its own little arrow. Except it will be a different pointing arrow, the photon takes longer to hit the back edge than the front edge, further to go. So we now have two arrows to deal with, those that hit the front and those that hit the back. Crucially, in this model, the arrow for the 'back hitting' photon is reversed in direction.

Now you can 'add arrows' together. Just attach the pointy bit of one to the tail of another and then draw another arrow between the two. Just so! The square of the length of the third (bolder) arrow gives you the probablity (amplitude) 0f the photon being reflected. Neat, huh?

So let's increase the thickness of the glass again. Oooh, we get 16% reflection! The thicker the glass the more reflection! Let's try it. Increase the thickness of the glass again and what do you get? 0%, no photon reaches (b)! Oh dear! Latest postulate, in Tom Cruise's words, "crashed and burned! Not a pretty sight!" Now, experiment has this sinusoidal oscillation happening at least 32,000 times in succession - there's a limit to how thick you can make glass without spending the entire Federal budget- o-16% every time. Why? After all it seems a little crazy, no?

The answer lies in the 'direction' of the arrows. You see at certain thicknesses of glass the arrows (the time it takes for the photon to traverse the thickness of the glass), according to our little 'clock hand', can point in exactly opposite directions, 0%, (an arrow joining them as above of zero length) or widely differing directions, as in the example above, 16% when you join them together.

Now before anyone starts getting out of their pram, this is a staggering oversimplification of what is going on but, crucially, it captures the essence of what is going on and, more importantly, the numbers add up, so we must be on the right track, even if it is simplified.

In the next exciting instalment of 'where the bloody hell did I leave my photons and why can you never find an electron when you need one', we'll look a little more carefully at where the photon goes as it leaves the source and why it always goes in a straight line to where it has been aimed. It doesn't really, sort of, it just looks that way! :)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

MG's BIG mouth, fuzzy little balls and a strange theory of light and matter

I had an email from MG a couple of days ago. "Hi Penguin, someone's floundering in QED, I said we might help them (and maybe some others) out. You up for a bit of oversimplification to get Dick's message across?"

Thanks, Malcolm Goodson, all round 'nice guy' (some say :) and only too willing to impress his idiot of an ego on an unsuspecting planet. Sometimes I think he 'jests' on purpose when he supposes that he was Attilla the Hun in a previous life! I can just imagine the pasty faced dwarf galloping across the plains on his little mongolian pony! Well what can you do? So I said yes.

Therefore, anyone who reads this blog with a desire for insightful analysis, charm and wit in equal proportions, a slightly different take on the world or just an amusing read might be well advised to steer clear of any blog which is titled 'QED + anything else'. On the other hand, those posts might give you a modest insight into the most bizarre ideas ever and cause you to question whether there is any objective reality out there so....................................

Here they are, the combined ramblings of two diseased minds working in concert but trying, faithfully, to render the great Richard Feynman's ideas in language that everyone can understand. We do not, in any way, think that we are telling 'the truth' here. It can only be an interpretation . (We do this to cover our ar**s.) We do not have the maths! BUT we believe we have it right and hope that it enlightens!

A small digression. Dick 'shared' his Nobel prize with two others but, crucially, only Dick's 'solution' is ever used. All hail to the mighty Dick :)

So, Quantum Electrodynamics, the interaction of light with matter. But first a small history lesson

By 1900 the atomic theory of matter was well advanced. A point like nucleus with electrons in orbit around, a microscopic planetary system. This was borne out by experiment, notably Rutherford's. He aimed beams of 'particles' at solids and noticed they were scattered but not as much as he expected if the atoms inside were solid ball-like objects. It seemed like there was a lot of 'space' in between the atoms which a planetary model could explain. However Newtonian mechanics, which did explain planetary motion, did not explain certain behaviour of the 'planetary' electrons.

In the very early days of the 20th century, Max Planck, solved the issue of black body radiation by proposing that electrons could only lose or gain energy in discrete amounts, 'quanta'. They were prevented from accumulating or shedding energy in a progressive way, ie by adding loss or gain cumulatively. It was all or nothing. In this way, Planck prevented the electron from spiralling into the nucleus of the atom, it could only go so far inwards since it couldn't shed 'half a quantum'.

In 1905, Albert (that's Einstein for any of the educationally challanged out there, not Roux) demonstrated that it was also possible to explain why electrons are emitted from, say, a metal when you shine a light on it, the photoelectric effect, by positing that light was not a 'wave' but discrete particles.
Only when the light particles have sufficient energy could the electron acquire enough energy to break free from the nucleus by absorbing a light particle, a photon. It didn't matter how much light (how many photons) you shone on the object, the only thing that mattered was the frequency of the 'light wave', the energy of the photons. Below a certain photon energy level (wavelength) no effect was observed. Each photon had insufficient energy to allow the electron to absorb enough to break free, no mattter how 'bright' the light, or better, no matter how many photons. He got a Nobel prize for that! The godfather of quantum mechanics who denied his own godson to the end!

By 1926, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Bohr, De Broglie, Planck et al had got a basic theory together and thus was born 'the collapse of the (Schroedinger's) wave function', the 'uncertaintity principle', 'wave/particle duality' and an inherant 'fuzziness' to the entire universe.

However quantum mechanics had hit its first major obstacle. If you tried to predict the outcome of an experiment to match actual results using quantum theory, you could do so at a 'coarse grained' level, an approximation, but as you tried to fine tune your calculations and bring them closer to the 'measured outcome' by graining more finely, a remarkable thing happened. Suddenly, infinity entered the equations! It was as though nature had no intention of letting you see what was really going on!

In 1931, Paul Dirac postulated a 'magnetic moment' for the 'perfect', non interacting, electron of 1.0. A magnetic moment of an electron is a bit like imagining the electron as a little magnet, how magnetic is it? This was broadly in line with Maxwell where electricity, which is no more than a stream of electrons, is essentially the reverse side of the coin of magnetism. They are interlinked. One always induces the other. Experiment put this 'moment' value at 1.00118. Now it was known (from Einstein above) that electrons interacted with light, photons; so this has to be factored in and then this would then bring the theoretical more in line with experiment, wouldn't it? It must, after all, only be a minor adjustment, the difference is so small. Unfortunately, any adjustments just led to infinities again! Quantum mechanics had come to an impasse with nature. The theory on the surface looked sound but if you delved 'deeper', it all fell apart, there were these 'stupid' infinities that just would not go away! God was always closing the curtains!

It was not until 1948 that first Julian Schwinger (and independently, Tomonaga), then Feynman showed that there was a way out of the morass of infinities. It is interesting that Feynman in his lectures gives precedence to Schwinger (he was the first) but omits to say that Schwinger's methods are not used nor are Tomonaga's and also omits to say that only his are! This penguin, at least, wishes that he had had the opportunity to meet Mr Feynman. We could have played some serious bongos together!

So, where are we? Light is made of particles, photons. Electrons can 'capture' a photon and take its energy to increase its own and we have equations that work at a coarse-grain level but not fine grain. We have a theory that explains things classical physics explains and things that classical physics does not explain so we ought to be on the right track. All we have to do is get rid of those bl**dy infinities!

In the next QED blog we'll be looking at the partial reflection of light from glass and why it cycles through 0-16% reflection depending on the thickness of the glass.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Hurricanes, Hollywood and the Lafayette Bar & Grill

This is the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time
He could have been the champion of the world

Remember that? Bob Dylan's 'Hurricane'? About 1975? The sad story of the boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter and his 'false' imprisonment for multiple murder? A sorry tale of stitch up, conspiracy and malice against a poor, hapless, black boxer, too uppity for his own good. I don't know why, but the lyric came into my head and to pass the time I went and had a look for the story. What was funny was that I didn't quite find what I was looking for.

In the aftermath of the 1999/2000 film, with Denzel Washington, someone had set up a web site to lambast the film for its inattention to facts, its total lack of objectivity and for its completely 'fairy tale' like quality in lionising Carter. Now the site is quite extensive and has all the hallmarks of the 'single issue fanatic'; you know, those loonies who obsess over one thing to the exclusion of everything else, eating, sleeping, washing, you know the kind I mean. Except......

The site's author spent about 20 years as a journalist. Now journalists are a queer bunch, I know, I have a few in my address book, especially once they get wind of a story. For journalists, it's often all that counts while they're working on it, the story. So I was a little intrigued and delved. What the site's author has amassed is a huge amount of official documents which puts a whole different slant on both the film and Carter's account, on which the film is based. What you come away with is an ever growing realisation that in many ways, we seem to have been conned.

The site's author actually covered the second trial for his newspaper and like a good journalist has created a site which, to this penguin, marshalls so many facts, discrepancies in accounts and what appear to be outright fabrications in Carter's account that you can't help but feel that the juries in both trials (yes there were two, separated by about 10 years) actually may have got it right, after all. On the balance of probabilities, the police probably, like the Mounties, did get their man.

Now this is not to say that I think they should pop Carter back in the slammer. He was released by a federal judge on a couple of procedural issues (mainly lack of disclosure by the prosecution) in a last ditch appeal in the late eighties for a writ of habeus corpus and seems now to be leading a perfectly law abiding life, albeit one which seems to be founded on spinning his story of his life at $20,000 a throw. I suppose if you want to pay that kind of money to listen to someone who now says he was running guns to the ANC in the '60s :) all well and good but the American judicial system took a hard knock in the wake of Carter's release and the film made matters worse; perhaps the issue does need to be looked at again. Having said that, there probably is no point, even the prosecutor saw no point trying to pursue the case again in the late eighties so long after the original event, despite the fact that they were decidedly unhappy about the decision. They considered it perverse in the extreme, given that previous appeals by Carter's team based on the evidence had failed.

So why bother to write about it? Well, as I was googling around the subject I came across an obituary for Joey Giardello, who died in September this year.

Oh dear, the penguin's going off topic again :)

Joey Giardello was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world from 1964 to 1965. One of the old school of boxers who fought his way up from rookie to champion the hard way with over 100 fights. A capable and a skillful boxer. When he lost to the man he had beaten in 1964 to gain the title, Dick Tiger, he effectively retired. So what has that got to do with Rubin Carter? Carter was the first challenger for Giardello's title in 1964. Carter lost, as he usually did to boxers who had any real skill, to a unanimous (and undisputed) points decision, effectively 10 rounds to Giardello, 5 to Carter. From then on in Carter seemed to go a little downhill, losing seven of his next fifteen fights and had slipped from one to five in the ranking list of contenders and looked on his 'way out'. A little after that he was 'inside'.

So what did the WBC (which didn't exist in 1964) do in 1993, it awarded Carter a middleweight championship belt (they gave one to Giardello as well at the same time). I wonder how Giardello must have felt? He beat the man fair and square but Carter ends up getting a belt anyway? And then in 2000, the film portrays Carter as a man robbed of the title by a corrupt and crooked system, with Giardello an inept and shambling wreck of a fighter who spends the last round on the ropes being pummeled to a pulp by Carter, when in reality, Carter scarcely got a look in after round five.

Giardello sued and had footage of the whole fight to back up his claim. Universal settled out of court. I wonder why? Perhaps they didn't want anyone else coming forward saying exactly how much fabrication was in a 'true story'?

You see, in one way, it was that story that tipped the penguin over the edge. If the story could be so wrong on that issue, what else might it be wrong on? And if Carter is making a living spinning lies, then shouldn't someone point this out?

I suppose not really, politicians do it all the time, why shouldn't the citizens?

If you want to waste :) an afternoon digging around Cal Deal's site it's here.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The difference between quantum mechanics and love

What makes you angry? Sometimes it's so easy to see: someone jumps the queue at the bus stop and you end up standing all the way, usually with some poor, frail old lady, who is also forced to stand because of someone's selfishness; someone meanders down the platform at a snail's pace so you can't 'overtake' and you have to keep 'chopping' your stride to avoid running into them; someone barges past you in the supermarket and grabs the last packet of pappadelle. But sometimes, it's all a mystery.

Strange, I have a weird sense of deja vu about that last paragraph.

I got invited on to someone's blog last week, ostensibly because I have an interest in quantum mechanics. They have a theory which turns out to be 'infinitely expanding atoms' creating spacetime as they go. Now I raised a few 'objections' to potential issues here and after getting 'non replies' and references to Newton and Einstein decided I was not going to waste my time trying to argue the toss with someone who was going to 'lower the net' for their every return. (Thanks to Dan D for that one. Wonderful analogy he uses when discussing 'conversations' with creationists. A tennis match. Your serve is that rational, well substantiated argument that your opponent insists you serve, so you do, but lo and behold as soon as they swing, down comes the net and what is returned is neither rational nor well substantiated. Well, two can play that game! But just as you're about to make your backhand cross court pass, up comes the net again! No wonder those games never finish!)

Anyway, I really had to stop myself from leaving a less than polite Parthian shot. But more to the point, I couldn't understand why I was so angry; you read stuff like that all the time. Part of it at least, I think, is that it saddens me to think that people who usually get no further than 'What the bleep do I know?' but think they would like to know more about quantum mechanics might actually get sucked in by such unsubstantiated and unscientific twaddle and end up thinking they know what the science is about. So to deflect the anger, I put the net back up and had a think :)

It wasn't a long sustained think, I'm not Descartes; more a 'punctuated equilibrium' think. Long periods of statis punctuated by short bursts of evolutionary vigour. The stasis being provided by Dick Feynman's description of the covered mirror and diffraction grating experiment which I had gone to check on because it formed part of my musings. I wanted to verify that I had remembered it correctly. (I had:) However, as a result of Dick's guiding hand and soothing, but self mocking, tone, a light bulb switched on and I realised what it is that's annoying about any discussion over quantum mechanics which doesn't end up in frantic equation scribbling on beer mats. People don't get how 'wrong' it is!

Just about any scientific theory you'll come across has as a very basic, but tacit, assumption: there is an objective reality out there which you can measure, observe, speculate on and discuss in verbal terms because everyone shares that same reality to a very large degree and they will also share, to a large degree, although not completely, language which assigns common values to that reality. If you show a picture of a German Shepherd dog to a Frenchman and say: "Un chien?" The chances are he'll agree with you. A dog= un chien. The mappings are usually not as simple as that but you get my drift.

However you can't do that with quantum mechanics! I hear hoots of disagreement! "What about 'A brief history of time'?" you cry. "'The emperor's new mind'?" "Schroedinger's cat?" And therein lies the rub. Quantum mechanics is so keen to have itself understood that it forgets to tell you that it is all about number crunching not about words, even, really, about ideas. At root, it is a recipe book. Follow the instructions, feed in the ingredients (more numbers) and out pops an answer. Go and do an experiment and see if you get the same answer. If you do, move on to the next problemette. This is what physicists know in the bottom of their hearts but are too coy to say, for fear of alienating people. Only the numbers and the symbols count! :)

You see, according to quantum theory, the world, the galaxy, the universe, you, me, they're not composed of protons, mesons, quarks, photons or any other 'ons' you can think of. The universe is simply composed of probability amplitudes. One giant 'what might be', not one giant 'what is'. This should be, as it was to Einstein, deeply distressing to anyone. No wonder we all hide, even the physicists. But there isn't anything we can do about it. At that level, that's how it is. Somehow from all those 'just probabilities' comes what we experience.

Now there is no doubt in my mind that quantum physicists think pretty much like you or I think. I am quite sure that when Murray Gell Mann first started thinking about the scattering experiments that seemed to show that the proton wasn't just this singular object and actually seemed to have 'hard bits' and 'not hard bits' he did not immedaitely rush to the blackboard. I am sure that he probably thought that it could be a bit like a few ball bearings tightly packed in some kind of soft, spherical condom, but, and this is my point, he did, eventually, go to the blackboard. He did start frantically scribbling equations. No-one gets a Nobel prize for Physics for a quaint analogy. Quantum Chromodynamics stands or falls on the equations and their predictive qualities not on the analogy.

It took me a long time to realise what was fundamentally unsatisfying about commentaries/books, often by science journalists, on research in quantum mechanics. It took a physics graduate demonstrating to a bewildered penguin how a 'constant' (the penguin forgets which one but remembers it was quite important and crops up all over the shop) falls quite naturally out of running through a set of equations, it just 'appears', as if by magic. This is quantum mechanics not the analogies for the 'too disinterested to learn the maths' brigade. The last is not an insult, a cheap jibe, the penguin too has little enough time, or aptitude he thinks, to learn what must be learned but the penguin knows it must be learned if one is truly to grasp what the theory says and he therefore adjusts his thinking processes accordingly until a time when there is a spacetime enough to contemplate polynomials. God is in the maths.

A postscript. Quantum Electrodynamics is, perhaps, the supreme predictive quantum mechanical view. The interaction between light and matter. It is predictively accurate to 5 or 6 decimal places, in Feynman's words "... equivalent to measuring the distance between New York and Los Angeles to the thickness of a human hair" and yet it is fundamentally flawed. Feynman himself admitted 'renormalisation' is a trick, a way of removing infinities from equations, but a trick that works! Perhaps that's all we can ever hope for. Tricks, that work!

And finally, as a postscript to a postscript, a little movie clip (just click the play button). What today's blog was going to be about but ended up not being about. Perhaps a later one will revisit it. Those who have read earlier posts will know why this resonates, the rest will have to engage in some reading practice. :) The film should have ended here, but didn't, for which I dock 0.5 points. The director should have had the courage of his scriptwriter's convictions. So it's only 9.5 on a scale of 10 but, in the comfort of the penguin's own cinema, with control over WHEN it ends, it always scores a perfect 10!

Here's looking at you, kid

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Please to remember, the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

Today is that day in Britland where they celebrate non-success! Guido Fawkes' failed attempt to blow up the King of England and his parliament! They do this by systematically sending huge amounts of cash up in smoke, literally. Oh alright, they have firework displays but they amount to the same thing.

Now it has always struck this penguin as odd that the celebration should have continued for so long. It actually started at the time of the original plot, although in a different form, as a thanksgiving for the deliverance of the King, James Thefirstof-England (formerly King James Thesixthof-Scotland who changed his name when he took the job for reasons which have now become obscured in the mists of time. He is best known for his bible:) from an untimely demise. Now the plot at the time was firmly laid at the feet of English Catholics and so it seems reasonable that the largely protestant English should take great pleasure in rubbing the Pope's nose in it; they had after all only just seen off a catholic inspired invasion not fifty years before - the Great Spanish Armadillo. Actually the Armada was less seen off by the Brits than by the Great British weather but we'll leave them their illusions of Great Queen Bess and Sir Francis Drake playing bowls at Plymouth Ho!

Now the Brits have been reasonably tolerant of religions over the last 400 years or so; even James himself didn't, as might have been considered reasonable for an absolute monarch at the time, go in for a great deal of Catholic bashing, just the odd one here and there, and they are more tolerant now of other faiths, or lack of them, than they have ever been. The enduring nature of the celebration cannot then be a continuing desire to blow raspberries at the Pope nor, I think, can it be in celebration at the saving of a long dead monarch, who is after all just that, dead! Most people if quizzed would, I think, tend to say that Fawkes was trying to blow up Parliament by which they would mean the democratically elected 'House of Commons'. In fact Fawkes was trying to blow up the house next door, the House of Lords, the 'Commons' did not even exist then. So why?

I think it has to do with the very thing young Guido was using to achieve his aim of separating the King from his entourage, gunpowder. The Brits have never been ones for celebrating much and until recently, fireworks were usually only ever seen today; there wasn't much of a 'fireworks' tradition (except among the immigrant Chinese community) and so in thrall to all that aerial splendour, the Brits clung aggressively to this one opportunity every year when they could 'light the blue touchpaper and stand well back'.

There used to be tradition which, perhaps sadly, is rapidly dying out where a 'guy' (effigy) made of some old men's clothes stuffed with newspaper, to provide form, would be wheeled out into the High Street by children in the weeks before today and used to solicit, oh alright, beg, for money for fireworks; 'penny for the guy, mister?' The poor have always been canny when it comes to raising money for a bit of fun. These would be added to whatever the parents had provided and each little garden in the street would have its own little display while the children stood around with 'sparklers' in their hands breathing 'Oooooh!' into the night air along with huge plumes of mist.

Another tradtion, perhaps also dying out but more slowly, was the community bonfire. In addition to begging for money, the children would trawl their neighbourhood looking for anything which might burn; knocking on doors, asking for old or broken furniture (it used to be saved especially for this by generous householders) and generally ransacking the area to build the largest 'bonfire' they could on a patch of waste ground, of which there was a lot in the years after the war in major cities. Small exercises in space creation made by Hitler on the way home. A 'guy' would be placed on top, the pile liberally doused with petrol and the whole thing ignited to the consternation of the adjoining householders and the local fire brigade. The whole street would gather round and eat half baked potatoes and over baked sausages cooked in the fire, while the guy burned. Ah the old 'Blitz' mentality. Have a cup of tea and a chat while everything goes up in smoke around you :) Sometimes the houses burned as well but that was not an annual occurance just the occasional bonus when the fire brigade were stuck in traffic :)

Now it's just Council/Government organised displays of the most staggering ingenuity. Safer, no children suffering 3rd degree burns, more thrilling to watch, phantasmagoria in the sky sparklers!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Franz Marc, William Blake and unbreakable connections.

MG tells a wonderful story of the picture below and the poem which follows it. At an impressionable age, an unsophisticated 17, a couple of friends took him to the Lehnbach Gallerie in Munich. Wandering around, the three came upon the painting below, which is large, very large! MG sat down on the bench in front of it. After some minutes, impatient for some other pleasures, they said they would meet him about 2 hours later at the gallery entrance. Two and a half hours later, they wandered back from the entrance to try to discover what had become of their 'charge'. They found him still on the bench, mumbling to himself, "Did He who made the lamb make thee?"

Der Tiger, Franz Marc

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The Tiger, William Blake

Not sure what it is about the poetry and stuff at the moment. Perhaps the prospect of at least a week without smilies from a certain quarter, :( perhaps the Penguin equivalent of 'flu', you know, nostrils all bunged up, sweating like the proverbial, jackhammers on the inside of the head, nothing will stay down, even the bile and acid. Ah well, no doubt, like all things, this too will pass.

Now over the years, I've built up a little trove of these 'connections' of his and it sometimes puzzles me that things which might end up being experienced a number of times end up being tied to a single image whether a physical image like the tiger above, or a mental image, a picture in your head. He always see Marc's 'Tiger' in his head when he reads the poem and always starts reciting the poem when he sees the painting or a reproduction. This seems strange to this penguin. That exacly the same, or nearly the same neurons fire every time. I suppose after a couple of times, it starts to get self-reinforcing, like a little feedback loop in the memory.

Bouquets of flowers are always associated with standing on tip toe and vice versa. Why? Well as a pasty faced dwarf, MG invariably has trouble reaching up to peck the cheek when presenting a bouquet and on that particular occasion was especially humbled when some time later in the evening the person asked for another (peck not bouquet) which meant tippy-toes-time again; humbling for a testosterone fueled male. :) You'd have thought she would have had the courtesy to bend a little and save his pride :)

Gene Kelly is a wry smile from the doorway and the words: "Alright, you're forgiven". For what? A thoughtless, tactless remark and the ensuing 20 minutes as he attempted to apologise in a torrential downpour by re-enacting 'Singing in the rain', lamp-post swinging and foot in the gutter splashing included. Any resemblance to a drowned rat standing at the gate was entirely uncoincidental. The wry smile had the umbrella. :) Whenever it pours.............

Star Wars is always sunglasses. Some time after the release of 'Return of the Jedi', a cinema organised a 'breakfast showing' of all of the first three films. These start around midnight and the films are shown back to back and then they serve breakfast. Makes for a pleasant night out, literally. Now one of the party had recently bought bought a very expensive pair of Ray-Bans. As they're settling down to breakfast, someone remarks: "Why have you still got your sunglasses on?" "Hm? Oh I didn't notice, I still had them on." Yeah right! Every time MG puts his Guccis on, it still brings a smile. How on earth can you sit through over six hours of film and not know you've got shades on? :)

And finally, though this one is perhaps a little cruel and really only works one way but........ MG often gets a cab home from his mother's after visiting; the journey by public transport is a bit awkward. Now as they approach his road, he'll say: "Next right." ie turn into the next road on the right. His only problem is that the next thing, he wants to do, is shout: "It's a bloody roundabout!" (Roundabouts, in road terms, are traffic smoothers at junctions, you wait for a space to enter the flow in a clockwise direction and leave the flow at the appropriate turn off, they're indicated by a raised, circular mound. often many metres wide, at the centre of the junction) Now of course these don't show up on maps, only the junction itself. So MG's reading the map and says: "Next right". Now he can see it's a roundabout, the driver proceeds to go counter-clockwise around the roundabout, ie turning right! Just as well no-one was coming round the other side :) To make it all the more bizarre, the car behind followed!

Well the fish stayed down today so....................................

Sunday, 2 November 2008

On the shores of Gitchee Gumee, of the shining big-sea-water....

I went hunting for the snark today for a little light relief, the library here has a "Complete Works of Lewis Carroll", and by chance, I found a poem I had never come across before, or, at least if I had, I had forgotten it. It was Carroll's "Hiawatha's Photography". A silly poem about family portrait photography, Carroll was a photographer too, written in the metre of Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha". (The link is to Carroll's poem, not HWL's.) Now, as Carroll points out, once you have the metre in your head, it's not difficult, if you are poetically inclined, to mimic it. What struck me was not the skill but the conceit of marrying the poem's form, Hiawatha and photography. Hiawatha as a wannabe David Bailey. One of those little side slips by the brain.

I was going to hang a blog about the plight of the native American in the nineteenth century on that but decided that it would be too depressing so instead I thought it might be interesting to put down some poetry. Not necessarily 'great' poetry but things that move, intrigue or humour this penguin instead. Now I will probably run foul of the copyright furies, who will hound me to Hades, but on the basis that some may be unfamilar..........

Where the poem is in a foreign language, I have tried to provide a translation next to it in case the other language is not known

Jorge Luis Borges

Un poeta menor-------------------------------- A minor poet

La meta es el olvido-----------------------------The goal is oblivion
Yo he llegado antes------------------------------I have arrived early

Genesis iv, 8 Genesis iv, 8

Fue en el primer desierto.-----------------It was in the original desert.
Dos brazos arrojaron una gran piedra.-Two arms let loose a great stone.
No hubo un grito. Hubo sangre.---------There was no cry. There was blood.
Hubo por vez primera la muerte.--------For the first time there was death.
Ya no recuerdo si fui Abel o Cain.--------I do not now recall if I was Abel or Cain.

Nor does the penguin know and I, too, have arrived early.

Roger McGough

Defying Gravity

Gravity is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
Let go of the book and it abseils to the ground
As if, at the centre of the earth, spins a giant yo-yo
To which everything is attached by an invisible string.

Tear out a page of the book and make an aeroplane.
Launch it. For an instant it seems that you have fashioned
A shape that can outwit air, that has slipped the knot.
But no. The earth turns, the winch tightens, it is wound in.

One of my closet friends is, at the time of writing,
Attempting to defy gravity, and will surely succeed
Eighteen months ago he was playing rugby,
Now, seven stones lighter, his wife carries him aw-

Kwardly from room to room. Arranges him gently
Upon the sofa for the vistors. 'How are things?'
Asks one, not wanting to know. Pause. 'Not too bad.'
(Open brackets. Condition inoperable. Close brackets)

Soon now, the man that I love (not the armful of bones)
Will defy gravity. Freeing himself from the tackle
He will sidestep the opposition and streak down the wing
Towards a dimension as yet unimagined.

Back where the strings are attached there will be a service
And homage paid to the giant yo-yo. A box of left overs
Will be lowered into a space on loan from the clay.
Then, weighted down, the living will walk, wearily, away.

For Adrian Henri

A nun standing
In a fish and chip shop queue,
Watching as the vinegar runs through,
And thinking
How nice
To buy dinner for two.

The penguin thinks that it is pleasing to know that where he treads, others have trod before. And that the memory of those footsteps can pass through our feet and into our hearts.

John Donne

'TIS true, 'tis day ; what though it be?
O, wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because 'tis light?
Did we lie down because 'twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.

Light hath no tongue, but is all eye ;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well I fain would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honour so
That I would not from him, that had them, go.

Must business thee from hence remove?
O ! that's the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.

Oft times has the penguin needed to make such a choice. But Donne is wrong. 'Tis no sin to 'pull a sickie' for love!

Ernst Jandl

Manche meinen -------------------Most peopre think
Lechts und rinks ------------------Reft and light
Kann man nicht velwechsern---Ale nevel confused
Werch ein Illtum!-----------------What an ellol!

Impossible to translate. But worse is 'Der kunstlicher Baum' (The artful tree). Translation is not the problem, getting the translation to conform to the shape of an oak tree is!

Justin Quinn


I would blame no bird
When the slightest twig is snapped,
For its nervousness.
Suspended above it all,
Held by steel and brick,
We live inside their silence,
Years after their acts.

Not about the current situation, not about al Qaida, but the 'troubles' (Northern Ireland). Strange how history inevitably repeats itself, George Santayana notwithstanding.

Jacques Prevert

Dejeuner du matin---------------------Breakfast

Il a mis le cafe-------------------------He poured coffee
Dans la tasse--------------------------Into the cup
Il a mis la lait-------------------------He poured milk
Dans la tasse de cafe------------------Into the coffee cup
Il a mis le sucre-----------------------He added sugar
Dans le cafe au lait--------------------To the milky coffee
Avec la petit cuiller-------------------With the little spoon
Il a tourne------------------------------He stirred
Il a bu le cafe au lait-------------------He drank his milky coffee
Et il a respose la tasse-----------------And put back his cup
Sans me parler------------------------Without a word
Il a allume-----------------------------He lit
Une cigarette--------------------------A cigarette
Il a fait des ronds----------------------He blew rings
Avec la fumee-------------------------With the smoke
Il a mis les cendres--------------------He tipped his ash
Dans le cendrier-----------------------Into the ashtray
Sans me parler------------------------Without a word
Sans me regarder---------------------Without a glance
Il s'est leve-----------------------------He got up
Il a mis---------------------------------He put
Son chapeau sur sa tete-------------His hat on his head
Il a mis---------------------------------He put on
Son manteau de pluie-----------------His raincoat
Parce qu'il pleuvait-------------------Because it was raining
Et il parti-------------------------------And he left
Sous la pluie----------------------------In the rain
Sans une parole------------------------Without a word
Sans me regarder----------------------Without a glance
Et mois j'ai pris-------------------------And me? I hung
Ma tete dans ma main----------------My head in my hands
Et j'ai pleure.---------------------------And I wept.

Ah, have we not all been there?
Bye, bye