December 2009

“There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”


image by aarmono

Go on, be brave…..

From the Outdoor Fox

“News Years Day Splash

Hi. I hope you have overcome the stress, happiness and overeating at Christmas! Now I expect you are thinking of the New Year? The Outdoor Fox  is offering a great idea to get you into the mood for the new decade—- Start 2010 with a SPLASH! This is the start of my 60th year and as a way of celebrating the fact that I have survived to this stage in relatively  good health I thought I would raise some money for Clic Sargent.This is a charity close to me as my young brother died of Leukemia 55 years ago and so me reaching this age is doubly important! Clic Sargent looks after children and families of children with cancer.So what is this Splash. Well you can join me by running into the sea at Ganaway at Midday on New Years Day. Either sponsor me to jump into the sea for you or raise sponsorship for you to do it.So please come we hope to have soup, rolls and coffee afterwards!Ganaway is between Millisle and Ballywalter.See you Here! Happy New Year John 07779295299″

Belfast under the Winter Sun

The last two days involved lots of walking for the lovely Sharon and I.  Yesterday was a wee dander up to the top of the cave hill.  It is somewhere I had never been before and involved some interesting paths.  They were made interesting by the hard compacted ice and the fun involved in walking on them.

Belfast Lough

Today’s walk was a little longer.  It began just outside Ballycastle and took us to the top of Fair Head and beyond.  Then down to the sea and a coastal walk back.

The air was frigid and the wind numbing.  At one point I had that dentist visit  feeling and had to warm my face a little before speaking in order to make sense.  Scotland and the Paps of Jura were clear and very wintery with a bright white coating.

The walk was quite a long one and was enjoyed with friends including the outdoor fox.  The humour for the day was supplied by Jasmine a Prince Charles Spaniel who has been spending several weeks with the outdoor fox on an unofficial ‘fat camp’.  She was an overweight little dog who seems to have lost a lot of extra pounds after sampling a slice of the outdoor fox’s active lifestyle.  Although she seemed to be feeling her new found health and was throwing herself into things, she failed to throw herself off things and often suffered from a whiney panic while perched on ledges and steep ground.  All this while Meg dog ( the outdoor fox’s dog) seemed to be always in front and dragging us all forward while constantly sniffing for rabbits.


It is interesting to note that the lovely Sharon and I had a conversation we often have when out walking.  The fact that given the choice she prefers the view out to sea and the wild waves and I prefer the view to the land, the hills, and valleys.  My eye was constantly being drawn to the lake near fair head with it’s crannog sitting in the middle.  With the  snowy fields around and the sheets of ice floating on the lake, my imagination was tugged into an older time.  A time thousands of years ago when a family lived on that crannog, possibly the only people for an area around fair head.  This was and still is a wild place that has very faint, but very real, echoes in all of us.

Starts with a bang does a very nice explanation of today’s xkcd, a brilliant illustration of gravity.  All those wonderful Mars scifi films look a lot more improbable now.

Orion is rising in the winter sky with the bright Sirius, the dog star, due to follow obediently later tonight.

The December moon dominates the frozen sky, waxing.  In a few days it will be a blue moon, the name given to the second full moon in any month.  This is an event that happens every two or three years.  It seems a shame to give it this name and I am sure it had another not too long ago.  They all had names.  The names marked the time of the year and the timing of nature and the seasons.  When I look up the names of the moons it says that the December moon is the Cold Moon, Long Night Moon or Winter Moon.  A name is given for every one of the 12 months, but of course this is us shoe-horning the lunar calendar into our Georgian one.  The Georgian calendar seems just a short-lived aspect of our current culture with the lunar calender probably being more deeply in our psych and behavior when you consider the lunar effect.  Apparently it is difficult for bouncers to get the night off on a full moon.

cold moon image by vtdarkstar

The Full Moon which will be the blue moon falls on the 31st of December our cultural celebration of the new year.  On this night the lunar effect might get a lot of chance to play as so many people are out to let their hair down and celebrate.  All this and we have lost its proper name.

After the initial ambition of going up the black stairs before Christmas it is good to see that Paul had some fun on them (see here).

“nerds are really important both socially and culturally”

Ben Goldacre

Click on Ben’s face to see the interview.

Being off school gives me a little more time to read around blogs on the internerd.  One very interesting blog that I have recently begun to subscribe to is ‘starts with a bang‘ .  It is one of many very fascinating blogs from

One article that made my jaw drop a little is about globular clusters and the stars inside them.  To get a sense of the scale of them you have to think about our local star (the sun) and how far away the next nearest star is (proxima centauri).

This crude little graphic of mine shows that if you imagine a bubble of 4 light years radius then our closest neighbour is just outside this bubble.  A light year is a measure of distance where a light year is the distance that light travels in one year.  For perspective, the sun is 8 light minutes away from earth.   So it’s not that close and inbetween is mostly empty.  There may be a few brown dwarf stars in this bubble that have not been detected yet but that’s another story.

A globular cluster is a different matter:

Omega Centauri is a globular cluster of stars 15,800 light-years away from us.  It is very densely packed with stars.  A zoomed in picture shows this better:

Just how densely packed with stars is the bit that made my jaw drop.  Back to the crude diagram:

If, instead of a four light year bubble, we imagine a one light year bubble.  Then if we imagine that the sun is in this kind of globular cluster, how many stars would be in our one light year bubble?

This many:

Imagine the night sky if this were the case!

click on image

Click on the image or here to see Simon Singh talk.

The icy cold air and the menacing winter weather makes the mountains irresistible.  I must admit that I expected more snow than what was found high up, but the mountains made up for this with their winter beauty.

The original idea was to go up Donard via the black stairs.  However, once we got the the edge of the forest line we saw that what should have been a large waterfall was a solid water fall.  So, we didn’t even go near it for fear of having to walk all the way back disappointment.

We went up to the col via the non boring path, i.e. the central gully.  This meant we got to play with our ice axes.  After all that we worked up an appetite.  So, in a very professional mountaineering manner, we broke out the trangia’s and cooked bacon sandwiches and real coffee.  Best bacon sandwich ever.

Faced with the choice of Donard (the  highest in Northern Ireland) and Commedagh; Commedagh is always a winner as for me it gives more interesting options for descent.  It also gave some amazing views from near the summit.

Slieve Binnian and the winter solstice sun.

Slieve Bernagh and hoar frost.

The Hare’s Gap (or Mare’s Gap) is down there in the middle.

The view from the stone hut on Commedagh

Winter sun from Commedagh summit.

Slieve Commedagh summit cairn.

It’s that time of year.  Seeing all the snowmen always wants me to do this:

It’s cold here and a light dusting of snow has fallen.  The lovely Sharon is sitting wrapping presents.  I can’t be sure but I think some of them are for me.  Earlier this evening I was polishing my shoes and discovered one pair had developed a shocking hole at the back of the heel.  I need to ask the lovely Sharon if has any spare elves not busy who are cordwainers.

I don’t know why, but I like this:


and this:

from here


Irish wild boar makes a comeback

The Irish wild boar – which died out hundreds of years ago – is back on the rampage.

Conservation authority, Biodiversity Ireland, has reported a number of sightings of boar in their old stomping grounds over the past year.

One 396lb boar was shot near a school playground in Tipperary this year, according to a report in the Irish Times.

Some lovers of wildlife argue that the boar should be welcomed.

But others believe they are a nuisance.

Farmers claim they damage farmland. They have also been accused of attacking dogs, charging at walkers and wrecking local land.

Sows, boars and piglets have been spotted in counties Kilkenny and Wicklow.

Some conservationists are concerned that, as the Irish wolf is extinct, there is no natural predator to keep the numbers of wild boar down.

Barry Coad, the game and wild life manager for Coillte -an Irish commercial company operating in forestry, land based businesses, renewable energy and panel products – told the Irish Times he had dealt with a number of wild boar over the past year.

He said the problem was “quite widespread throughout the country”.

Mr Coad has been directly involved in removing nine animals from Piltown in County Kilkenny and Glenealy in County Wicklow.

“I think it is a serious concern for agriculture and also there is potential for spreading disease,” he said.

Wild boar are known to uproot large areas of land, eliminate native vegetation and have the potential to spread disease to domestic livestock.

Colonies of wild boar have become established in parts of the United Kingdom in the past decade.

I always have a strange relationship with fiction.  Most of the time I just can’t get my head into it.  I loved the City of Thieves so I thought I would try another fiction; The Inheritors.  This was a story of the last tribe of Neaderthals as they slipped into oblivion at the coming of the aliens (that would be us*).  It’s from a famous author (Lord of the Flies) but I am sorry to say that it simply did not grip me.

However, The Gathering Night has gripped me.  I can’t put it down.  It is also about a prehistoric hunter gatherer group, but that’s not what makes it interesting and gripping.  I’m hooked.


*It is a very strange and bizarre truth that we did once share this earth with another species of Human like creatures.  They died out in Europe about 30,000 years ago.  Quite likely because of competition with us.  And if you don’t think this is strange because there are lots of primates on this earth remember;  evidence suggests they had language, tool making and they buried their dead.

It’s the time of year for the geminid meteor shower.  The lovely Sharon and I popped out to see what we could see.  We saw a few meteors, not a massive amount.  So, was it worth it to stand outside in the cold winter air.  To stare up at the stars instead of the TV.  I don’t really need to answer that.

A picture from Wednesday evening.

When I saw this I loved it.  Even though I never had spongebob when I was a kid, the kitchen table in the artificial light in the depth of the winter with the felt pens and paper lying everywhere.  It reminded me of one of my earliest memories.  Memories of scribbling random pictures with my sister on the kitchen table.  My other earliest memory is my parents losing me at an airport, but that is a different story for another day.

a simple soul – a thing to strive for

family: United States: The Revis family of North Carolina Food expenditure for one week $341.98

family: Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23.

more here

I really wanted to post a very cute youtube video that has been gaining popularity but it is simply too cute.  So to balance the ying with the whatever, I have posted two videos.  The first on is gross and the second one is cute.  thus balancing the order of things.



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