As a housekeeping note, I realised I’d been posting bloggy-type entries on my Google+ account. I’ve moved versions over here, with the dates as when they were posted over there. Anyone who wanted to comment, but was wary of signing up for a G+ account can add their thoughts over here now.
Emily Baldwin @astroemz on Twitter is going in for a loop excision next week to remove pre-cancerous cells from her cervix. As she says it’s a routine operation, but it’s only routine for the professionals. It’s not routine for her so she is understandably nervous. She’s blogging on what happens to help raise awareness of the importance of cervical smears under the twitter hashtag #cervixwatch.
I think this is one of those situations where putting thoughts into writing can help. I had a routine operation to remove a kind of cancer that Emily will never get, and sometimes it’s worrying. The raw statistics are that almost everyone has no trouble, so you can feel silly for being anxious. Still, I woke up one night in a small puddle of my own blood I was a bit concerned. After thinking about how to write this up I realised I’d be even more worried if I’d woken up in a puddle of someone else’s blood. This kind of detachment made it easier to cope with waiting.
It’s easier to be detached when something is over too. I think putting information online before the outcome is known is brave. It’s a personal experience and confessing fears can make you feel more vulnerable. I don’t imagine it’s a huge help that the cells might be pre-cancerous, meaning it’s not actually cancer. The c-word is still there but because it’s pre– you could feel foolish for worrying about it. Oddly I’m told it’s a common thing among cancer patients to feel guilty because you know other people have had it worse. In Emily’s blog I see something similar. She doesn’t want to overplay the situation, but she’s still perfectly entitled to be anxious and some of her post explains why.
In my case other people definitely have had it worse than me. The saddest memory I have is from the waiting room when I had chemotherapy. There weren’t enough seats, so the polite thing to do was to stand and let the people with cancer sit down. There were a lot of people there in a much worse way than me and they didn’t all have cancer. I felt tired in my muscles all the time, like I’d been swimming all day, but I wasn’t as run down as some of the carers, so I stood up to give one of them a seat. It was heartbreaking to see how shattered they were looking after someone they loved. Many of them were clearly in dire need of a rest, and for some of them it was never going to get any better.
Compared to that a bit of embarrassment and worry is a bargain. If you’re female and you’re squeamish at the thought of smear tests or think you really shouldn’t make a fuss about something like that, then you should follow Emily’s blog over the next few weeks to see if it’s really worth risking dying of embarrassment.
…and as a follow-up she now has her experience online.
I saw a shooting star last night as it streaked across a sky full of stars. I kid you not! You could look up and see thousands of stars. Now, astronomy mavens might not be too impressed by that. Many people can see stars as dim as magnitude six in a dark sky, lucky people can see dimmer stars. There accounts for around 6000 visible naked-eye stars. But for many of us that’s simply not true.
I used to live in a suburb of Derby. When I moved to Powys I noticed there were more stars in the sky. A lot more. So many I was tempted to buy a telescope. The next 30 days were clouded out, so that killed that idea, but on the days when stars are visible they’re stunningly impressive. There is a way to quantify how impressive the night sky is that you can help with next year.
When I was in Derby I took part in GLOBE at Night. It’s a survey that asks you to describe what you can see. The version I took part in asked people to say which stars they could see in Orion, the image on the right. It’s a good choice because the belt makes it easy to identify. I could see those. I could also see Betelguese (top-left), Bellatrix (top-right) and Rigel (bottom-right). If I squinted and stared hard I could imagine I could see Saiph (bottom-left), but really I couldn’t. There was a sodium glow of dank yellow reaching up into the sky like lurid phlegm-coloured fog. It was the first time I’d realised how bad the local light pollution was. In contrast, I can’t account for every star in the photo shown, partly because as your eye dark-adapts you see more stars. However, this image is a very good impression of what I saw. I had no trouble at all seeing Orion’s belt. It didn’t look like a figure of gems on a velvet background. Instead the major stars looked like gems over a background where someone had sneezed diamond dust.
It’s possible this long-term cold I’ve had since September is affecting me more than I think.
The difference isn’t just in quantity. A dark sky makes a big difference to the quality of the sky. I thought I knew my way around the night sky pretty well. Last night I could see Orion out of my window, but took a little while to find Taurus. Again, a good amateur astronomer might find this funny. Taurus should be unmissable. Even more so when you have a dark sky, making the stars even easier to see. In the Northern hemisphere you look a little way to the right and you’ll see the horns of Taurus the bull live a V shape. Aldebaran sits at the top of one of the horns. This V is made of bright stars, it’s the most visible part of the constellation, it is striking. But when you have a properly dark sky it’s striking among a whole load of other stars. In Derby Taurus was to the right of Orion. In Powys it still is, but this time there’s an awful lot of stars in between them. It’s easier to find your when around the night sky when you can only see the prominent stars. Here, it’s almost like the sky has developed a glittering interference pattern.
I know that light pollution has been a topic of pain for astronomers for decades. In my head I can fully understand it as a quantitive argument. Dark skies = more stars. That might not be enough for a powerful emotive argument. Imagine you live somewhere where the night sky is rubbish. Reducing light pollution isn’t such a big deal. It just means more rubbish looking stars. I also wonder if heavy light pollution, which is worst nearest the horizon, helps distance people from the Cosmos. Banishing the visible stars to the highest parts of the sky emphasise the separation between earthly life and the rest of the universe. A dark sky shows that where you are is the place where the Earth meets the Sky. Below you soil, above only the unimaginable heights to the edge of the universe, and you smack in the middle.
That feels different and it’s something you can’t reproduce in a planetarium.
As a coda, I remember reading about the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in Astronomy magazine. After the power had been cut the night sky was exposed. People phoned up local universities, planetaria and observatories to ask what the lights in the sky were. At the time I lived in the country, so I found the idea that people could be puzzled by stars hilarious. Having lived in a city now, and knowing that many people have never lived anywhere else I have a lot more empathy. Imagine living through a hurricane and then, for the first time in your life, the universe arrives on your doorstep. No wonder you’d want to phone someone to check it’s normal.
I finally got around to getting The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby this week. is it any good? If the suspense is too much for you, Gary’s a nice bloke, so if it were rubbish I wouldn’t mention I’ve read it. The reason I left off buying it for so long was that I was waiting for the paperback. In the end the Kindle price dropped to the paperback, so I got that version. I’ll also be buying the sequel The Ionia Sanction, possibly not till the price drops with the paperback for that too, but then again it might be a Christmas treat instead.
The book is based on a real event. Ephialtes established the Athenian democracy (if you ignore Cleisthenes), and then was killed a few days after by
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx (I just realised, this would be a big spoiler). This, as Gary Corby points out in his author’s note, is in a few lines of the Constitution of the Athenians — which we’ll say was written by Aristotle because a discussion of the authorship would be tedious, inconclusive and utterly irrelevant to the point.
The book opens quickly.
A dead man fell from the sky, landing at my feet with a thud. I stopped and stood there like a fool, astonished to see him lying where I was about to step. He lay facedown in the dirt, arms spread wide, with an arrow protruding out his back. He’d been shot through the heart.
It was obvious he was dead, but I knelt down and touched him anyway, perhaps because I needed to assure myself that he was real. The body was warm to my touch. The blood that stained my fingertips, from where I had touched his wound, was slippery and wet but already beginning to dry in the heat, and the small cloud of dust his fall had raised made my nose itch as it settled.
It doesn’t normally rain corpses, so where had this one come from? I looked up. There was a ledge above me, and another to the left. The one directly above was the Rock of the Areopagus, home to the council chambers of our elder statesmen. The other to the left, but much farther away, was the Acropolis. There was no doubt about it; this man had fallen from the political heights.
I took a weekend off to attend a course in London on Applied Cold Reading. The course was given by Ian Rowland, who might be familiar to some readers as ‘Ian who from where?’, for everyone else he’s the author of The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading.
The Full Facts Book is mainly about Cold Reading in a psychic context. There are lots of people who can tell you how cold reading works in a psychic context. It relies on Barnum statements, statements that feel personal but they’re true for everyone. I don’t find that a satisfying explanation. I get the impression that the Barnum effect works best on gullible people. I know a few people who take psychics seriously and they’re all far less gullible than me. Another reason it’s a poor explanation is that there aren’t many people with a father called Brian, with dark hair, who’s missing fingers from his left hand.
I’ve been thinking over the Project Barnum debate, as seen on Jourdemayne’s blog. It’s a good example of how two intelligent people sincerely trying to work out what is best can disagree. Following allegations against Sally Morgan, should psychic events be banned from theatres? Jourdemayne argues no and Michael Marshall says yes.
I agree with Jourdemayne, but not with how she gets there. Continue reading
While I was in Wales connectivity was bad, so I had time to keep up with security on AoB Blog and Then Dig, but not here. This coincided with the discovery of a major security flaw in a plug-in. For the past month or so I’ve been looking at how to fix the theme without losing everything, but it seems that might not be an easy task, so instead I’ve started work on adapting the AoB template for other sites.
It’s a handy exercise in seeing what is effected by the hack and what isn’t, but it also means that visitors here will see things shuffling around or breaking for the next few days or weeks.