Sunday, 31 August 2008

The story of my life in six words

Somewhere in blogoland I came across the idea of writing your life story in just six words. I've done a Google to see where it may have come from, and in the process came across the following:

In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He wrote: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn." He won the bet.

I find this a very interesting exercise because it forces one to concentrate on the absolute nub of what your life seems to be/have been. I'm sorry to say that so far my six words only conujour up sadness. Self pity, or the reflection of childhood?

Anyway, if you will bear with some shameless (and therapeutic) self indulgence, here are three attempts.

"Tossed aside, but found a way."

"Conceived and deceived. Still no answers."

"Bad parents. Mad children. Stupid really."

I'd be very interested to read what you might come up with; and a few cheerful ones would be just great!

Added later:

I have been inspired by dot to be more positive. He is right. As I indicated in my response to his comment, my life is good, and I am happy. The past is the past. He challenged me to try my life story in six positive words, so here they are:

"Started badly; who cares? Finishing well".

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Why did the chickens climb the stairs?

No, not a joke or a riddle. A genuine question.

We have six new chicks, who have been with us from 3 weeks old. They are the replacements for several of our adult chickens who, for all sorts of reasons including hideous bad luck, have died. Some of you will have read about Blue Foot. Her demise was followed, not long after, by her friend Giselle who suffered from health complications too.

The newcomers are getting towards full size, but are still babies really, you can tell that from their tiny little serrated combs. They often seem to behave like one composite creature, perhaps the result of imprinting on each other?

They are surprisingly dear and entertaining.

Anyway, here are the stairs. There are 32 of them, in three flights, and I would have thought that each step would present a bit of a challenge.

Here is the view down the stairs, so we are talking "high" here. And trust me, chickens do not fly.

And here are the six babies who have twice now decided, for reasons I cannot fathom, that up the stairs they will go and then have a preen and a rest.

You've got to ask yourself "Who the heck had this strange idea?" and you also have to ask "And why did anyone listen to you?"

Friday, 22 August 2008

Small rhinoceros, tough hide.

Cupidon was having a love-in with some small creature. Alas what he loves and what small creatures love are two different things.

At least this time our visitor came well defended and was none the worse for a few minutes of molestation. He / she was so shiny - I kept looking at the images close up to spot my reflection. I'm sure it must be there somewhere. (BTW this is worth clicking for a closer look - it's beautiful).

Anyway, having put up with the cat, and put up with being photographed, said rhino was set free and ambled off in no particular hurry.

An entirely different matter - I went outside the other night and pleasant surprise, there was a near full eclipse of the moon. My camera would be no use, but I tried using my wife's Cannon S5IS on full zoom, hand held, to see what I could get. It produced the following. OK, not great, but stunning given a hand-held exposure at night. That image stabilisation really does work.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Men, women and the hyperintelligent

In a recent post I singled out some hyper-intelligent people. The common theme was their ability to take something we might all have encountered but then done something remarkable with it.

People. Well men actually, as mouse pointed out to me.

This had me thinking. Did my selection reveal an unwitting prejudice against women? Not as unlikely as you might think.

To give you a "for instance" read the following passage and reach your conclusions:

A father and his teenage son are out in the family car. There is an accident. The father, who was driving, is killed outright. The boy is badly injured, with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He is in danger of dying. An ambulance reaches the scene and the boy is rushed to the A&E at the nearest hospital. Without delay he is prepared for surgery and wheeled into theatre. When the boy is placed on the operating table the surgeon, who was briefed and waiting, gasps and says "I can't operate on that boy, he is my son!"

What is going on? To find out, read the first comment following this post.

Anyway, back to the post in question. Mouse commented as follows:

"a lovely tribute to a great collection of clever guys...operative word is guys! although you did omit one of my favorite smart BOYS, operative word boys...leonardo!!

some women I would honor in such a list may include hildegard of bingen (who I have posted about on the mouse), marie curie, rachel carson, hypatia, and perhaps hannah arendt, maria montessori... just to name a few."

Well, I took this seriously and reflected. There are several possibilities, but the two stark ones are (a) I am actually prejudiced against women (b) I'm not, and the selection simply indicated that there are more smart men to choose from than women.

Professionally, I know that there are no significant differences in intelligence between men and women, though they differ in these two ways. Men have better spatial skills and women have better verbal skills.

But hyperintelligence? I wasn't convinced by the women in mouse's list. Granted, they are all hugely influential, but I thought might come into the Thomas Edison category of 'Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration'. The ones I know about, viz., Marie Curie, Rachel Carson and Maria Montessori seem to me to belong in that category. Their contributions reflect dedication, insight, persistence and hard work. But I don't see the kind of divine spark here that I see in say Newton or Einstein.

But reflecting further, I really don't see that in most men either - not in a Lord Kelvin say, or a Pauling, or even a Watson or Crick.

OK I thought, well maybe there are some incredibly bright men, and some incredibly bright women, and then a third category, the hyperintelligent, who just happen to have penises.

I think there may be something in this. For example, idiot savants are those people, who appear to be subnormal, who can do remarkable things, cognitively speaking. For example, they can tell you the day of the week corresponding to a random date you give them, or can learn a telephone directory by rote. And they are four to six times more likely to be male than female.

A famous contemporary savant is Stephen Wiltshire who couldn't talk and at the age of three was diagnosed as an autistic. He could draw, though, and thanks to those who recognised his talent and encouraged him, he slowly developed and finally, by the age of nine, learned to speak.

His particular talent is architectural drawing. He can look at a cityscape and then draw it. I don't mean an artist's impression. I mean draw it in detail, down to the number of windows in a office block. And without needing to look again.

He once drew the whole of central London after a helicopter trip above it. He did the same thing after a helicopter ride over Rome. His detailed drawing showed, inter alia, the exact number of columns in the Colosseum - not an easy thing to do, as this photograph shows.

Hyperintelligent people are not necessarily better than you and me in all sorts of ways. In fact, in terms of selective advantage and reproductive success, you are far better off with good social skills than an IQ of 145.

But they do seem to have these blinding insights into life, the universe and everything, that are denied to the rest of us, be we male or female.

[Postscript: baino, in a comment, reminded me about expectation effects, something I had meant to touch on here. For most of history, including modern times, women have not been expected to perform. We know from experimental evidence that this dampens aspiration and affects attainment.]

Friday, 1 August 2008

Who's been sleeping in my bed?

Well Cupidon has, and here is the evidence - look at the size of the creature. His kitten days are well and truly over.

Thus far he has been unable to crack the mosquito net, but today he suceeded. Oh joy, oh rapture. It lends a certain currency to "Sleep tight, hope the fleas don't bite in the night."

I feel I should apologise for the sordid state of the unmade bed, but that would just draw your attention to it, so I won't (don't click for a larger view!!).