Monday, 9 April 2018

Bats, Insects and Climate Change

Say thanks to the small free-tailed bat
Who consumes both the earworm and gnat
But the climate is warming
Too soon they are swarming
And the crops in the fields will fall flat
The Scientific American has an article "Bats are migrating earlier, and it could wreck havoc on Farming" which relates to the way climate change is affecting the Mexican free-tailed bats that migrate to Bracken Cave, Texas, in vast numbers, and which eat many of the insects which are agricultural pests.
Bats are not so significant in the UK, and an article in a Devon newspaper, The Moorlander, this week, reminds me that my interest in bats dating back about 60 years. The Devon Greater Horseshoe Project is conducting a survey this summer using bat detectors to count bats as they hunt for insects. About 60 years ago I spent time actively recording and ringing hibernating Greater Horseshoe Bats in Devon - for the pioneer bat ringer, John Hooper, One of my activities involved checking some of the smaller caves and mines in the area between Buckfastleigh and Chudleigh. While I no longer live in Devon, I do visit occasionally and will be most interested to see the results of the survey.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Man's contribution to life on the planet???

In the past, coming from the abyss.
There emerged, on four legs, a small fish.
Then came ape, and then man,
Plastic pot, and tin can,
And then piles, and more piles of rubbish.

See also
Plastic patch in Pacific Ocean growing rapidly, study shows
  • 22 March 2018
Discarded fishing net in the PacificImage copyright The Ocean Cleanup
Image caption Discarded fishing nets were part of the haul
A collection of plastic afloat in the Pacific Ocean is growing rapidly, according to a new scientific estimate.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Captured by the Camera

A Winter View at College Lake, near Tring
Things have not gone as planned over the last few months and my top priority is to keep fit and relax - and what better place to do so than College Lake - and this year I will try and include some more relaxing "Captured by the Camera" shots - and forget about the horrors of Brexit and Trump.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

A Merry Christmas to all

Picture from "If Santa used the Computer" 
Follow my example and have a relaxing Christmas and New Year Break - with not too much time on the computer - and hopefully we will all come back to the fray refreshed in 2018

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Censoring Climate Change

Having worked on early climate change publications when I was in Australia I have tried to keep up with developments ever since and been very impressed with the amount of excellent research origination in the United States.
There is no doubt that humanity is "trapped" on this planet and the changes we are making will have serious consequences on future generations. As such I find the recent article, Censoring Climate Change,  in New York Times about how the Trump administration is trying to bury the results of climate change research very disturbing.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Alice in the Cuckoo's Nest

Photo copyright
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
The Librarian Theatre is currently touring the UK from November with a play Alice in the Cuckoo's Nest which imagines the original story in the settings of a mental institution. "We're no shying away from the darker sides of the subject matter, but nor will ther ebe overly explicit content which would exclude younger audience members."
One has only to look at today's news about the domestic political crisis surrounding Brexit, the troubles in the Middle East, and the acres of poppies being prepared for Remembrance Day to feel that we all live in a mad world. In fact humans are pretty resilient and survive most of life's pitfall - although most of us get depressed on occasions, and a lot are badly affected in one way or another at some point in our life.

However the real problem is that those who are troubled with the most extreme forms of mental illness are not understood and are often shunned - which only makes their problems worse. As a result I welcome plays such as the above because they can help people understand what is happening and support those who need support and friendship in their times of difficulty.
In fact plays that treat mental health issues in a responsible manner are always welcome. When my daughter Lucy killed herself we were delighted to be able to work with small theatre group. The idea for the play Out of Sight came from when David Kester read an article Welcome to the Muppet House by Nick Davies in The Observer, about C1, the psychiatric wing of Holloway Prison. They researched the events relating to Lucy's time on remand in Holloway and the play illustrated why it was wrong to lock people up because they were mentally ill. It showed with a great deal of humour, the strength of, and need for human contact. We were particularly delighted that, in addition to the stage performance, the group also visited an number of schools and preformed to groups of six former pupils, followed by a discussion on the mental health issues raised.

[The stressful effects of Lucy'e illness, inappropriate imprisonment, and death had a serious effect om the family  Post traumatic stress disorder was one of the reasons why I abandoned the research into CODIL (seee other posts on this blog) and lead me to spend over 20 years doing mental health charity work at both the local and national level. There are also tragic links between Lucy's arrest and what happened after her sister Belinda was inappropriately arrested in the same police station some fifteen years later.]

Monday, 23 October 2017

CODIL, Complexity, evolution and Intelligence

I have just been following a FutureLearn course

Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World

It was run by the University of Groningen under Professor Lex Hoogduin,. While I have been concerned with complex systems all my life I have never done even an introductory course on the subject and it has proved very useful in stimulating ideas about how I might write up my work on the evolution of human intelligence.  I felt that the information presented by Pier van den Berg on natural evolutionary dynamics and that presented by Franjo Weissing on social systems helpful as while much of what they presented was known to me their presentations help me to clarify my ideas. s a result I have posted the following closing comment (limited to 1200 characters) on the course

This course is proving a great help in research into the Evolution of Human Intelligence.

In 1967 research started on an unconventional “computer” with a user-friendly symbolic assembly language (CODIL). The aim was that humans and the system could work as partners on complex but mathematically unsophisticated tasks. Extensive research was done and a small package was trial marketed and got very favourable reviews. It was abandoned because of incompatibility with conventional computing technology. In retrospect a key problem was that the underlying theory had not been adequately explored.

In theoretical terms conventional computers process numbers in deterministic array of numbers while in CODIL concepts (ideas named by the human) are activated in a highly recursive network. While the original CODIL system was designed to process complex clerical-type information the recursion in the theoretical model suggest an evolutionary pathway from simple decisions at the neuron level up to the exchange of cultural information in human society. The CODIL research showed how the human brain could tackle complex tasks.

Interested to know more – see my blog

I will be actively following up the ideas this course has generated, with various leads to follow up, and an enhanced enthusiasm for properly writing up my own research.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Trapped on a warming planet

Trump fiddles while the world burns
The news on the BBC web site this morning was not good. Hurricane Maria is tearing up the West Indies only weeks after Hurricane Irma. More lives will be lost, homes and livelihoods will be destroyed, and the worsening climate will claim more victims.

On another page there is a report that this winter in Australia has been the hottest ever with over 260 heat and low rainfall records being broken - suggesting that there could be a record number of bush fires in the summer.

At a less serious level the last patch of snow is about to vanish from a location in Scotland where normally it remains all the year round.

These events come as no surprise to me. In July 1990 I joined the CSIRO in Australia for a year, based in North Ryde, Sydney. My first job was to look through a pile of research papers - and the first one was explaining why, as the world warmed under a man-made blanket of carbon dioxide, we could expect bigger hurricanes. The idea was to set up an information system which followed the latest climate change research, and mad the information available, in an easy to understand way, to the politicians and government of Australia.

A Postcard from 1908
"Did the system you produced have beneficial effects on the world's climate", I hear you ask. In fact the problem is that Trump was not the first climate denier (just the most dangerous) and I had only been working for a couple of months when the project was deemed unnecessary and I was moved to produce a prototype environmental data base for Australian Heritage.

So is there any good news? A recent scientific article published in Nature Geoscience concludes 
limiting warming to 1.5°C is not yet a geophysical impossibility, but is likely to require delivery on strengthened pledges for 2030 followed by challengingly deep and rapid mitigation.  
What this actually tells us is that hurricanes are going to get even bigger, Australia will get even hotter, and many other major changes will take place. However if everyone (including Trump and the USA) took the challenge seriously things will not be quite as bad as they would have been if we did nothing. In effect we (and our children and our children's children) are all going to suffer because politicians worldwide didn't take the issue seriously enough 25 years ago.