Hello World – An epic poem in 4500 stanzas

Hello new followers, lured here by the power of poetry.

I fear I may disappoint you as I do not post that many poems. For obvious reasons :)

Like most people my first real encounter with poetry was at school. The classics seemed shrouded in an impermeable patina of age and respectability.  They felt like punishment, not illumination.

But there were some poems that were different – the syllabus included an Ogden Nash poem, e.e. cummings, Randall Jarrell.

These poems were chewable, they filled the mouth and challenged the mind.

Then I discovered Mayakovsky and everything changed. Poetry was no longer an abstract concept, locked on the page, it was an active engagement with the world.

Alphaville introduced me to Paul Eluard. A girlfriend to Martin Espada. Chance to Fernando Pessoa. My past to Yeats and Heaney. Through Mayakovsky to Akhmatova to Mandelstam.

Random browsing of Penguin classics brought me Li Bao and Tu Fu. Random reading of NYRB and LRB brought me Weldon Kees and Amy Clampitt.

Poetry went from being something trapped behind a glaze of worthiness to being something core, an essential thing.

That is the thing about poetry. It sneaks up on you, taking no prisoners.

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A Modest Transport Proposal

(Inspired by the great Daedalus)

This morning’s rapid bus journey in to work provided further confirmation of what we observed during London 2012. The bulk of traffic congestion on London streets is caused by delivery lorries and the school run.

Children need to get to school, shops need to get deliveries so it is not feasible to simply ban these activities. And whilst we may be able to shift some deliveries out of daytime hours, this would not be possible for all and definitely not possible for the school run. 

So the fundamental challenge is to get both deliveries and children off of the streets during rush hour.

Perhaps the answer lies in a visionary initiative of the past? Pneumatic tube technology is still widely used in shops to transfer the contents of tills to the safe and to send purchases to pick up points.

So why not implement an underground pneumatic transfer system for school children and freight?

Because of their small body mass, children can withstand quite high accelerations and decelerations, and their small body size also makes it easier for them to fit into compact spaces. 

It should therefore be possible to use the same capsules for both children and relatively non-fragile deliveries.

So we build a hub and spoke system with spokes within easy reach of houses, shops and schools. Each day children assemble at their nearest spoke and are sent at high speed to the local hub, they are there transferred to their school spoke and sent on.

Goods are delivered either straight to the hub or from factory/dock spokes.

Speeds of 90kmph should be perfectly feasible meaning that the trip to school should take a matter of 10 minutes or so.

There are obviously some downsides – capsules are unlikely to hold more than 1 child at a time which will make copying homework more difficult, but children are adaptable and simply putting the brightest children in the capsules first and having them leave a copy of their homework inside should address that.Image

Horsesoft Dobbin 2013

You sell horses. You have made a lot of money over the years selling horses. Pretty much every business in the world and every household owns one of your horses. You bring out a new breed of horses every 3-4 years. Sometimes these new breeds of horses are failures but in the main people replace their old horses with your new breeds.

Your only rivals in the transportation market are a bicycle company whose products have traditionally been expensive, and a whole range of people offering rideable llamas for free, but these llamas have a history of being ugly, high maintenance and frankly – they spit.

But in recent years the bicycles have become cheaper and faster and every time you go to a conference pretty much everyone there now has a bicycle rather than a horse, indeed most of them have traded in their horses for the new world of portable, folding bicycles.

The llamas are less ugly, more pliant and spit a lot less frequently these days too.

It is time for your regular release of a new horse breed.

In order to maximise your market you decide in the following approach for Horsesoft Dobbin 2013:

  • You increase the cost of actually buying a horse significantly.
  • You introduce a new arrangement where people can hire a horse for a year but that horse can only be used by one person. At the end of the year the horse is taken away.
  • The horse is a horse, it does come with a new ribbon in its mane but that’s it.

 

As an MEA (Master of Equine Administration) student, do you think that the sum total of people buying and renting Horsesoft Dobbin 2013 will be higher or lower than previous breeds of horses?

Nothing is Simple

I am currently reading the excellent book by Jim Holt – “Why Does the World Exist?”.

And it turns out that that question is related to one of my late night musings – “What is the simplest possible universe?”

As in every good debate, we start by defining our terms. “Something” is easy to define, at least as a bucket, but what is “nothing”?

One way to define nothing is to start with something and then take it away.

So we start with our universe and remove all the matter. Do we then have “nothing”? And is then the simplest possible universe “nothing”?

The problem is that emptying the universe is not as simple as subtracting 1 from 1 to give us 0.

Even if we removed all matter, particles would still bubble up from the Dirac Sea. The only way to stop that is to remove the fundamental laws of this universe.

But where are these? How are they manifested?

Are they intrinsic to our universe or do they sit outside? And if outside then how do they affect our universe and have we not just replaced God with an equally inaccessible controller?

If they are intrinsic then where are they? Wearing a Mysterian hat, perhaps they are in plain sight but are imperceivable to our consciousness.

Emptying the universe starts to seem a lot less simple.

In the book, Jim Holt gives three requirements for this subtractive model of nothingness. One of which he, though not I, thinks is a deal breaker.

For me the fundamental problem with the subtractive model, aside from the challenge mentioned above, is ghosts.

Ghosts do not exist, they are therefore nothing. But they are obviously not nothing as there is a word in the page “ghosts” and you who read it know what it means.

Ghosts are both being and nothingness. What do I take away from what to create the nothingness that is a ghost?