The Wing-Friends and Other Books

In Blogger's slideshows images are greatly reduced, so lose much of their impact. And captions added to them in Picasa Albums vanish, so the images shown above are: the Milky Way, the Orion Nebula, Earth, Earth with New Zealand circled, New Zealand, Auckland & the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island, some native NZ forest, a Fantail and chicks, various doves, etc.

(If you want to see the first ten images in their original size, they are in a posting made on the 24th of November 2011.)

My book The Wing-Friends is an imaginative tale of a small brave boy, a magical adventure, a magnificent Pegasus and the wonderful Kingdom of the Pegasi. It has been given very good reviews, and virtually every reader on Goodreads has so far awarded it five stars. It is available here. Some of my other writings are available as e-books, such as The Lower Deck, which is an over-the-top take on Waiheke happenings--sort of.

Thursday, 30 May 2013


A pair of horses against the sky at sunset


A new machine-learning algorithm outperforms its predecessors:
In computer simulations the new algorithm arrived at more reliable predictions in a fifth the time.

The strangely familiar browsing habits of 14th-century readers:
Today we constantly switch from one text to another: news, blogs, email, workplace documents and more. But a new book by an MIT professor shows that this is not a new practice. In the 14th century, for instance, many people maintained eclectic reading habits, consuming diverse texts in daily life.

Radiation data from Curiosity shows the danger to manned missions:
NASA's Curiosity rover has confirmed what everyone has long suspected. Astronauts on a Mars mission would get a big dose of damaging radiation. The robot counted the number of high-energy space particles striking it on its eight-month journey to the planet. Another story on the same subject. And another.

New Zealand police ordered to return Dotcom items:
Taken illegally. Nothing, including copies/clones, is to leave New Zealand.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


Mountain Storm - Kapisa Province


Einstein's 'spooky action' common in large quantum systems:
'Entanglement is a property in quantum mechanics that seemed so unbelievable and so lacking in detail that, 66 years ago this spring, Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance." But a mathematician at Case Western Reserve University and two of his recent PhD graduates show entanglement is actually prevalent in large quantum systems and have identified the threshold at which it occurs.

Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function:
'UCLA researchers now have the first evidence that bacteria ingested in food can affect brain function in humans. In an early proof-of-concept study of healthy women, they found that women who regularly consumed beneficial bacteria known as probiotics through yogurt showed altered brain function, both while in a resting state and in response to an emotion-recognition task.'

Copper destroys norovirus, study suggests:
'New research from the University of Southampton shows that copper and copper alloys will rapidly destroy norovirus -- the highly-infectious sickness bug. The virus can be contracted from contaminated food or water, person-to-person contact, and contact with contaminated surfaces, meaning surfaces made from copper could effectively shut down one avenue of infection.'

Pigeons peck for computerised treat:
'Go to about any public square, and you see pigeons pecking at the ground, always in search of crumbs dropped by a passerby. While the pigeons' scavenging may seem random, new research by psychologists at the University of Iowa suggest the birds are capable of making highly intelligent choices, sometimes with problem-solving skills to match.'

Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Golden Horses Running Free


Formula for turning cement into 'metal':
'In a move that would make the alchemists of King Arthur's time green with envy, scientists have unravelled the formula for turning liquid cement into liquid metal. That makes cement a semiconductor and opens up its use in the profitable consumer electronics marketplace for thin films, protective coatings and computer chips.'

Soda and illegal drugs cause similar damage to teeth:
'Addicted to soda? You may be shocked to learn that drinking large quantities of your favourite carbonated soda could be as damaging to your teeth as methamphetamine and crack cocaine use. The consumption of illegal drugs and abusive intake of soda can cause similar damage to your mouth through the process of tooth erosion, according to a case-study published in the March/April 2013 issue of General Dentistry'

Scientists develop CO2-sequestration technique:
Lawrence Livermore scientists have discovered and demonstrated in the laboratory a new technique to remove and store atmospheric carbon-dioxide while generating carbon-negative hydrogen and producing alkalinity that can be used to offset ocean acidification.

Data from the nineteenth century provides more confirmation of global warming:
A new analysis by NASA and a group of universities of ocean data collected more than 135 years ago by the HMS Challenger's oceanographic expedition provides further confirmation that human activities have warmed our planet over the past century.

In Malawi, evangelicals don't doubt climate-change.
So why is it taking their blinkered American counterparts so long???
'When I asked Grace Kasowa, a devout Presbyterian farmer in Chagunda village, what message she would have for American evangelicals who deny climate-change, she replied emphatically: "You tell those Doubting Thomases that climate-change is real and has a negative impact on people. Less rain means I can't grow vegetables any more. Hungry elephants and other wild animals are coming into our village to rummage for our food and water." '

Autistic teenager tipped for Nobel Prize
A teenager who was diagnosed with autism and told he would never be able to read has been tipped as a future winner of a Nobel Prize. Jacob Barnett, fourteen, who was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at two, is now studying for a Master's degree in quantum physics. His mother Kristine Barnett, author of The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius, told BBC Breakfast she initially found it hard to get Jacob the right education.

Sunday, 26 May 2013


Long ago when New Zealand television was worth watching, when our two public channels were not overflowing with horrid commercials, when both were free of them on Sundays and when Channel 2 was also free of them on Saturdays, the latter had a slot on Saturday evenings called Foreign Cinema, which often had fine movies. One miraculous Saturday there was a one that was specially wonderful, a movie memorable in the extreme. It has often came to mind since, and I wished I could see it again, but I could not even remember its title. Then when browsing yesterday I happened upon a thumbnail of a poster of a Danish movie made in 1987, set in the 19th century, whose title brought back the memory of that most special one. The synopsis seemed to agree with my distant recollection, and when it began to play I saw within seconds that it was indeed the one. Hallelujah!

It is called Babette's Feast. And it is a feast, a rich, astonishing feast. A good movie in every sense of the word.

Friday, 24 May 2013



The change made recently by Google Plus to its user-interface has wrecked it. The former elegant, restrained, well-thought-out appearance was abandoned over night and replaced by something that looks as if it was slung together by a couple of drunken teenage blondes bent on destruction. If they had been paid by Facebash to sabotage it they could hardly have done better. They even added overweening insult to outrageous injury by changing some of our personal settings, unilaterally.

Whoever it is who has hijacked G+ and flown it off to La-La Land knows nothing about good design, nothing about a good user-interface, nothing about putting people first, and truly loathes users.

It is a great pity, but it has gone from interface to in-your-face, from magnificent to mayhem, from social network to silly nutwork, from elegant to loony, from a pleasure to the pits, from heartfelt to hateful.

It is not certainly not Google. It is Lady Gaga in one of her maddest and most hallucinogenic moments, it is hubristic nonsense, it is arrogant mischief gone mad.

Making matters even worse is the instability of the user-interface. It keeps being changed, which underscores the point that they don't what they are doing, so they blunder about, changing this, changing that, changing this, changing that, changing this, changing that.... On and on and on and on and on--much of it trivial messing about for no good reason, just change for the sake of it, like so many brainless teens who will do anything that comes into their heads just to relieve the boredom of their superficial lives. Then there are the bugs. Bugs jump out at you all the time. And because of the blundering about, the constant changes by a committee of dumb blondes, the opportunity for bugs keeps shifting with them, so bugs are blundering all over the place too.

Users like a little stability in their lives. They want an interface that has the transparency of good design coupled with the transparency of familiarity. Google+ now has neither. Its stability was always shaky because its quality control is haphazard and careless. Often it's so bad that it looks non-existent. Perhaps it doesn't exist. If Google were a tin-pot little outfit that could be overlooked, but it is inexcusable from the greatest software house on the planet.

One of Google's great problems is also its strength. It began with a better algorithm than anyone else. But it has to get it into its head that algorithms are not everything, that they cannot be everything, and that to believe that it can always make algorithms that are smarter than human beings is not only grossly insulting and damnably arrogant it is also dead wrong.

One of my favourite quotations is 'Design is thinking made visible.' The change G+ is not thinking, it is insanity. I love good design and loathe the bad, so my instant reaction was to dump G+ from my life. I shall miss some of the people I met there, but unless it gets back to sanity and finds out what quality of design and production really mean I shall never return. Never.

The items that I used to pick out from the Internet and post on G+ are now being posted here in my Net Gleanings. 

Monday, 20 May 2013


ROTATING: If you are a dove and you have eaten so much that you feel uncomfortable and look uncomfortable, but still want to eat more, what do you do? The solution is simple. You stretch up a bit, and rotate your crop inside your breast. Round and round and round and round, then you stop feeling and looking uncomfortable, and you have made more space on the inside, and can carry on eating. At which the human who is watching is amazed and wonders how much more you can wrap yourself round.

POINTING: And if you are dove, and have a well-trained human, and you are inside his office and the outer door is shut and you want to go out, what do you do? If you just want to be very simple you fly down to the door, to the side where it opens (because you know which side is which), and look hopeful. Then if the human notices you will find that he will get up and open the door and you will walk out. Very simple. If the human fails to notice you, you fly up to his desk to get his attention then fly back down to the door. Also very simple.

But if you want to be really clever instead of very simple, and you want to get him trained to pitch of perfection, you perch somewhere and start looking about for the exit. That will give him the message that you want to go out. Then you will concentrate really hard and you will manage somehow to get across to him the idea that if he points down to the door you will look at him, and at his pointing finger, and after a while you will follow his finger and fly down to the door. Then he will open it and you will walk out. The human will of course be amazed that a dove can work out what a pointing finger means then follow it. You, of course, will fly off thinking, 'I bet that human is amazed that a dove can follow a pointing finger', when the truth is that the really amazing thing was that the human got your message that pointing would work.

'What took him so long,' you wonder as you fly off to your roost high in the trees. But you know the answer. Humans are not very smart. Why else would they like doves just because they are so very beautiful and like come and perch on them and be fed?