Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Talking to aliens

When I was at High School we had assembly every day. The whole school assembled in the hall and sang hymns, listened to a Bible reading and joined in prayers followed by the headmistress reading out school notices. I used to sit cross-legged on the floor in my school uniform wondering what it was like in the French schools during assembly and what their school uniforms looked like. What I didn't know was that French schools don't have anything resembling assembly and the children don't wear uniform.

I can't help thinking that when we write science fiction about aliens we are just as blinkered as I was then. Take for example:
At least one species, the Manti, were found to be intelligent. [...] Within several months of first contact, the scientists were able to develop a common language with the Mandi.
(From Conundrum on Titan by Patricia Stewart on 365 Tomorrows.)

I'm not sure that I can believe that if we find creatures that are less intelligent than we are that we will manage to find a common language. We don't seem to have done very well with chimps or bonobos and we certainly don't treat any Earth animals as intelligent beings on a level with ourselves.

If we meet aliens that are more intelligent than us, I wonder if they will treat us as we do the chimps, yet this is assuming that their culture is in many ways similar to ours. Somehow that feels rather like wondering what hymns the French children sing in assembly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Catching the waiter's eye

Can't catch the waiters eye? Here's why.

A study in Buenos Aires found that waiters are very good at delivering the right drinks order to the right person. Part of their technique is that on the way to give the order to the bar waiters protect their memory by not looking at other customers. So the waiter isn't ignoring you, he's trying to keep his orders straight.

Thanks to Mind Hacks for this information.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


We went to see U2 live last night. I've always wanted to because I love their early songs, especially With or Without You. My Beloved thought it was great. I was disappointed because the sounds levels were all wrong for me and I found it hard to appreciate their music in the onslaught of sound. They seemed to have focussed more on the special effects, which were impressive, than on the music.

The supporting band Elbow, on the other hand, were wonderful. Warm, low-key and purely enjoyable. They had violinists on stage for their last song.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Competition reminder

It's still not too late to enter Writtenwyrdd's competition for some gorgeous notecards.

To go to the competition, click here.

How language affects your thoughts

I've found an easy way to avoid getting lost ever again. All you have to do is to learn the Aboriginal language of the Kuuk Thaayorre and you will always know where you are.

Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going?" and the answer should be something like " Southsoutheast, in the middle distance." If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello."

Taken from: HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? by Lera Boroditsky which is a fascinating article that explores the effects of language on the perception of time and colour as well as space.

Beats GPS every time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to be Happy

It's now official. The Happiness Experiment found that the best way to increase your happiness is to think about something that went well the previous day.

So now you know. Let's all get feeling happy!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The end of happiness

The happiness experiment has ended. I dutifully did my bit every day and had a slightly less than usually good week. It might have been fretting about doing the experiment or it might just have been one of those weeks. I don't think that doing things for other people in a planned way suits me, though.

I'd love to hear how you got on.

Another competition

Timothy Hallinan's latest book Breathing Water is out in three week's time and to celebrate he is offering three signed copies as a prize. All you have to do is to read the chapters he is putting up on his blog, one a week for three weeks, and answer a question each time. If the first chapter is anything to go by then the questions aren't hard, they just require you to have read the chapter.

As you'd expect from Tim, the writing is vivid and strong. If you don't win, you may find that you have to buy the book anyway. I have a feeling that Tim's book is going to be the real winner in this competition and deservedly so.

Enter the competition here.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Writtenwyrdd's competition

Writtenwyrdd (Lynn D. Frazier) has been blogging now for three years and there's a competition open to everyone in honour of the occasion. All you have to do is to comment in response to this post and you have the chance of winning some beautiful handscreened cards worth $50.

If you haven't been following her blog, I do recommend it. It's very varied and interesting with useful ideas about writing speculative fiction and lots of pointers to places that take submissions.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Roadblocks to Happiness

The Science of Happiness experiment began yesterday and already I've hit some problems.

The task I was given was to do something nice for someone else every day. That sounds so easy. I can't imagine a day when I don't do that already and I'm guessing that's true for you too, given that the suggestions include
complimenting someone, giving a friend or loved one a small gift, sending a helpful email, donating to those in need, or just contacting someone who would enjoy hearing from you
So, does it count if it was something I would have done anyway?

Let's say that I ignore that and just make sure that I count one good deed a day towards the experiment. Now here's the crunch. If I email you because it's my one good day of the day, how does that make you feel? I'm not sure I'd like to be someone else's charity project. The experiment is like a little bit of grit in all my relationships, causing me to ask myself "Am I doing this because I want to, or because it's my good deed of the day?"

I know what makes me happy. Walking in the sun somewhere with lots of greenery, petting my cats and playing clarinet.

I didn't expect the happiness experiment to be this hard. How are you finding it?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Happiness reminder

Just to remind you that the Happiness Experiment starts today and runs for a week. You can join in at any time during the week.

You can also follow it on Twitter.

Men can multitask

There is an urban myth that men can't multitask. This weekend my Beloved and I saw a prime example of how this simply is not true.

Chucklefoot is a professional busker who was playing at Losely Park Live Crafts Show yesterday. He performs as a one man band and was playing the banjo and the harmonica (mouth organ), while keeping some marionettes going with one foot, banging a tambourine and occasionally playing a horn, singing and working a cymbal. He kept the music going while encouraging the watching children to take instruments and then leading them round in a circular parade.

He was great fun to watch and very friendly. Don't let anyone tell you that men can't multitask.
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