The Listener

TheListener
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He never meant to throw her from the bal­cony. In a panic he looked round. There was no one else in the dimly lit theatre other than him­self and the girl who had con­fron­ted him.

Duncan Smith was used to meet­ing young women after shows. Women were the bulk of the audi­ence for his “Crossing the Divide” shows. Many did noth­ing for him, but he was often happy to offer com­fort to his younger female fans if they had someone. If they were will­ing enough, he’d sched­ule private time after a show to attempt a per­sonal séance with the depar­ted, and maybe some more intim­ate sup­port afterwards.

He’d thought the young woman hanging around on the bal­cony after the show was one of these. Lighting was handled from the pro­jec­tion box on the upper level, so often someone would be wait­ing for a per­sonal moment. What he hadn’t expec­ted was a young woman by the pro­jec­tion box with a micro­phone. She claimed she had a record­ing she claimed revealed all his tricks. Unlikely, he cheated in so many ways, but no one needed the illu­sion shattered.

He’d never meant to push her. He simply wanted the record­ing. She’d struggled but she didn’t have to. If she had given him the record­ing none of this need have happened. She retreated to the bal­cony edge, and after a tussle for the record­ing she was over the bar­rier. It was almost like she wanted to jump.

He stared down at the fig­ure below, broken across the seats in the stalls, look­ing back up at him. She’d won. She’d jumped out of spite to end his career, and show she looked back up, gloat­ing in death. She’d won. She had the recording.

He looked by the seats and found her bag. Sure enough there was a small micro­phone, plugged into a phone. He tried unlock­ing the phone to delete the record­ing, but he didn’t have to the code. Damn.

He looked up from the phone, guilt driv­ing him to check if she had seen him tamper with the phone. He looked down to the stalls below and saw only her dead blue eyes. This could look bad. He needed to show he’d done noth­ing wrong. He’d tried to stop her from jump­ing, and now… He took out his own phone and called the emer­gency ser­vices. “I need an ambu­lance at the Meridian Theatre. There’s been a ter­rible acci­dent.”
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The ancients and meteors

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There are all sorts of cyc­lical events that ancient peoples are thought to be inter­ested in, sol­stices, lunar cycles and eclipses. What rarely seems to get atten­tion are met­eor showers. It might seem odd, they’re annual, hap­pen­ing at the same point in the Earth’s orbit. They can also be spec­tac­u­lar. So why don’t they get much atten­tion from archae­oastro­nomers? There are prob­ably a couple of reasons.

Meteor and Pleiades

Meteor and Pleiades. Photo: Luis Argerich / Flickr.

One is that there’s not a lot of clear his­tor­ical evid­ence that met­eor showers were pre­dict­able in the ancient world. The ancient cer­tainly saw met­eor showers, one of my favour­ites is Plutarch writ­ing on pleasure:

…[P]leasures, like gales of soft wind, move sim­per­ing, one towards one extreme of the body and another towards another, and then go off in a vapor. Nor are they of any long dur­ance, but, as so many glan­cing met­eors, they are no sooner kindled in the body than they are quenched by it.

It’s clear that who­ever wrote that must have been famil­iar with fleet­ing met­eors showers. There’s also evid­ence of peri­odic obser­va­tions for met­eors, again from Plutarch, but these weren’t annual events. From his bio­graphy of Agis, a king of Sparta:

Every ninth year the eph­ors select a clear and moon­less night, and in silent ses­sion watch the face of the heav­ens. If, then, a star shoots across the sky, they decide that their kings have trans­gressed in their deal­ings with the gods, and sus­pend them from their office, until an oracle from Delphi or Olympia comes to the suc­cour of the kings thus found guilty.

Plutarch — Agis 11.3

Every ninth year in this case means every eighth, because of inclus­ive count­ing. It seems that while met­eors were well-known in the ancient world they were unex­pec­ted. If you count your cal­en­dar against the moon, as most ancient cul­tures did, then events like sol­stices hap­pen on dif­fer­ent days of the year. So too would met­eor showers. Along with the vagar­ies of weather and they tend to be vari­able in strength any­way, it might be less of a sur­prise that they weren’t pre­dicted and planned around.

It’s not just his­tor­ical evid­ence we could look for though. Continue read­ing

Chromebooks, revisited

HpChromebook11_HeroShot
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I put up thoughts on the HP Chromebook 11, after hav­ing one for a couple of weeks on Google+. At the time I said I liked it, and I still do, but it’s not per­fect. I’m happy with it, but if it dis­ap­peared I don’t know if I’d get a new one or some­thing else.

What I’ve found is that it’s mainly a tab­let replace­ment for me. The HP Chromebook 11 is light enough to do that. What I really like about the machine is the dis­play, which is Mac-like. It’s 1366 x 768 pixels, which is the stand­ard res­ol­u­tion for all Chromebooks (and the same at the MacBook air I think). The smal­ler dis­play you have on your Chromebook the bet­ter it will look.

I also like the key­board. I bought an iPad, think­ing I’d type into it. I really don’t like doing that. The HP key­board on the other hand is per­fectly usable. I’m sur­prised, because I thought an 11″ machine would be a bit too small for ser­i­ous work, but I have hap­pily sat down and typed for a few hours. For me, the dis­play and key­board are crit­ical. The HP 11 is the best of the Chromebooks for that.

Where the HP 11 lags is with the chip. The HP 11 and Samsung machines use an ARM chip. This means they’re fan­less, but also they aren’t as fast as the Intel based machines (like the HP 14 and every­one else). This caused prob­lems with YouTube videos, which seems to have improved since I got the machine, but there are still lags on the laptop. Some of this is my poor inter­net con­nec­tion, but I also won­der if some of it is the machine being a bit under­powered. It really isn’t by a lot, but it’s not quite seam­less.
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Valerian

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For a minute Rudolph McMurdo had been wor­ried. He was hardly old. At the age of eighty-two he was still a year short of another media mag­nate, and his own news empire sup­plied him with the best health care money could buy. Yet he had been warned by med­ics that he had car­diac prob­lems and the crush­ing pain in his chest had felt like the end. It wasn’t entirely com­fort­ing to real­ise it was. At least he had the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing his demise proved he wasn’t has heart­less as the smug bas­tards in the lib­eral media claimed. Nevertheless, it was cruel that death had finally come on his hon­ey­moon night with his fourth and pre­sum­ably final wife.

It was a sense of injustice over this that gave him an anchor in this new place. It was hard to tell exactly where he was. It was black, but well lit — though from no vis­ible source. It cer­tainly wasn’t dark. He could see him­self well enough, a curs­ory exam­in­a­tion of the back of his hand revealed the usual mottled. That was another thing someone would have to sort out. If he was dead then there was no need for him to be old.

The noise from behind was quiet, but was the only sound in the oth­er­wise silent place. Rudolph spun round in sur­prise. Some dis­tance away an old man in what may have been a robe, or pos­sibly a toga, was sham­bling towards him. His gait was hindered by the need to avoid his over­grown beard that could have slipped beneath his feet as he walked. His head was stooped, like the most fas­cin­at­ing things in the world were his toe­nails. The image was everything Rudolph asso­ci­ated with reli­gious nut­ters. Christ! You can’t even escape the bleed­ers in the after­life. The man seemed to be mut­ter­ing to him­self. As the fig­ure got closer it wasn’t what Rudolph had expected.

…and then someone says ‘let’s have some religiously-inspired gen­o­cide.’ It would be nice if, just once, they thought of the poor sods who have to pro­cess every­one after­wards. I told him ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Turn the other cheek’ were too ambigu­ous, but would he listen? Ooof!”

The final syl­lable punc­tu­ated the man’s col­li­sion with a fas­cin­ated Rudolph. The man looked up and into Rudolph’s face with benign incom­pre­hen­sion. Rudolph waved his hand in front of the man. “Hello? D’yer work here?” Rudolph asked.
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The uncommonly decent politics of reburial

DollTor
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To add a little con­text to the pre­vi­ous post: I’ve taken a course in short story writ­ing, and Silencing the Echo might have been an entry for a short story com­pet­i­tion in Wales — but I decided against enter­ing it.

The inspir­a­tion comes from a druid who cam­paigned for reburial of pre­his­toric remains in the UK. Avebury, I think. Reburial was, he said, a mat­ter of “com­mon decency”. As phrases go, it’s a good one. It taps into the British sense of decency and reas­on­able­ness. Or at least it does at first.

When it keeps com­ing up again and again it loses the feel­ing of a sin­cere spon­tan­eous state­ment and starts look­ing like a sound­bite. Looked at closely, it gives away the intol­er­ant nature of some of the campaigners.

Imagine we’re on oppos­ite sides, and I’m cam­paign­ing for com­mon decency. What does this make you? I sup­pose it could make you uncom­monly decent, but the insinu­ation is a moral fail­ing rather than simply a mat­ter of dis­agree­ment, and when the same tag is used over and over then it looks less like an accident.

An unques­tioned assump­tion is that reburial is what the per­son bur­ied would wish for. This is not cer­tain.
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Silencing the Echo

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The black clouds unleashed their rain, pelt­ing Adlais’s face. The drops melted into her tears. Now, in the centre of the circle, the priests grip­ping her, she under­stood what happened to her friend Branwen.

Once again the crops had failed. The gods were angry. Someone in the tribe must be anger­ing them and the tribe would have to be cleansed. Adlais had been called to the priests, who had asked if she would sing at the cleans­ing. She had never liked cleans­ings, but it was import­ant it was done right, so she had will­ingly agreed and drank from the horn to sig­nify her sub­mis­sion to the gods. Now, barely an hour later, her head felt like it was split­ting, her ears rang with sound of her own heart­beat and her limbs jerked of their own voli­tion as the priest lis­ted her crimes.

Witnesses came into the circle to testify to see­ing events that had never happened, to spy­ing acts that had never been com­mit­ted. They briefly recited their words, as they had for Branwen last year. Then they scur­ried back bey­ond the safety of the ditch that sep­ar­ated the world from this cursed space. As always, the accused was chal­lenged to deny her crimes, but Adlais’s blood felt thick and pois­on­ous. The words would not come to her tongue. She had been on the other side too many times to hope that people would see her dis­tress. Her silence would con­demn her. Her spasms would be vis­ible evid­ence of the guilt tor­tur­ing her.

The judge­ment came. Adlais filled with fear. Not for her­self, her future was as obvi­ous as the grave in front of her, but for her fam­ily and her friends watch­ing from bey­ond the ditch. They were des­per­ate, hop­ing this cleans­ing would finally rid the land of the blight. But what gods would be appeased by falsehoods?

It was almost a relief when the last act came. The blow to the back of her skull sur­prised her, as she dis­covered the pain in her head could indeed get worse. She stumbled, then fell into the pit dug for her, to the cheers and relief of the watch­ers. Still awake, she lay in her final bed as the priests began to cover her. Adlais cried. Not for her­self but for the friend she had aban­doned a year ago.
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Ken Ham slams religion

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For a man who claims to be reli­gious, Ken Ham cer­tainly has a neg­at­ive view of reli­gion. io9 reports that he has denounced the Smithsonian for pro­mot­ing nat­ur­al­ism. So when he wanted to den­ig­rate nat­ur­al­ism why did he use the word reli­gion?

It’s rare that any­one poin­tedly say­ing sci­ence is a reli­gion, is using the term reli­gion in a pos­it­ive sense.

So to cel­eb­rate, I’ve added Religion as a new Creationism Card.

Religion as a creationism card

Creationism Cards, col­lect the set!

In pos­sibly related news, I’ve had an uptick in end-times email in my inbox.