Why do we ask: are we alone?

Whilst camping recently I was staring up at the night sky and asked this: Are we alone? Fuelled partly by alcohol and due to the beauty and fascination of the universe of stars I could see. The question seemed to unravel for me in it’s complexity.

I came across a strain of thought that seemed to offer a faint hope of understanding.

Why do we ask, are we alone?

Why is it that so many minds have been dedicated to this idea of finding other life in the universe. The question itself seems a ‘Normative’ way to consider this problem. We are making a statement on how the universe ought to be. It is a consideration of one species without enough information.

What is it about the universe that we think it unfathomable that we might actually be alone? What is the thing that motivates us to WANT to have other life out there on other planets.

In the morning I observed a very small finch bouncing around exploring for food. The birds precise mathematical dance filled me with fascination. The bird took a second to stop very close to where I was sitting, for a long time it considered me and then darted off far into the distance looking for food in the bark of a tree. It was part of that creatures biology to search for food in new areas, to seek new foraging grounds to be curious, to look for mates to expand it’s world and survive and to be curious.

Humans are like this, we left Africa for new fertile lands in exploration to colonise every continent on this planet.  It is built within our psychology  to ask “Are we alone”  to explore the next valley, next river, next continent and eventually the next planet and again to be curious.

Humans have developed to be hugely social beings our co-dependency and collaboration is one stratagem for survival. It is most likely why the idea of being alone in the universe terrifies us. Simply because it threatens our views so ingrained to how we survived and survive as a species. Just think as a species one of our worst punishments is solitary confinement, essentially for one human to feel totally alone is a punishment close to death.

We seek to not be alone, however not being alone in the universe would imply that we are in reality looking for species very much like ourselves. What happens if we find sentient life and they are not like us? (A possibility). Or  finding that the only life out there are just micro-organisms?  Micro-organisms will only temporarily give us the impression we are less alone, after all we cannot communicate with a lump of goo. We may continue the search for sentient life regardless of results forever searching for it.

It is interesting to me this question ‘why do we ask, why are we alone’?  It supplied me with hours of contemplation while I sat around the campfire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914

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I remember when I was in primary school I was fascinated by a book my father gave me about the world wars, in the first chapters I would stare at the comic like pictures of the Kaiser taking a bite out of the globe, I remember the little picture of the car in which Franz Ferdinand was killed, the whole thing just seemed odd, just one person the killing of Franz Ferdinand lead to the events that kicked off a massive world war costing millions of lives, how?

The book starts with an excellent introduction, detailing why the book is worthy of some contemplation, with philosophical points raised by Clarke, namely “Is any war really inevitable”  in the conclusion Clarke also cleverly distances himFeatured imageself from pointing fingers at any one party and generates some philosophical contemplation about the broader problem:

The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in a conservatory with a smoking pistol. There is no smoking gun this story; or rather, there is one in the hands of every major character.

It is a curious way to think about things, that each party seemed to blame each other, hence mutually assuring its own destruction, a sort of ‘Mexican stand off’ of nations.

Yet standing back, from Clarkes rather ambivalent conclusions, I felt that he often set to point out something else entirely.

From the very beginning Clarke sets to outline how violent and turbulent the Serbians could be even to their own monarchy, how violent nationalist elements inside their own country were actively supported by the Serbian government, how the country never really attempted to hide its contempt for Austria for annexing Bosnia Herzegovina in 1908.

In today’s world, these kind of things are called terrorist activities and are looked on very dimly indeed. Entertain for a second that a nationalist element somewhere in the world assassinated Prince Charles, if a country was found to be clearly behind the actions there would be massive ramifications and investigations to who was behind it, if it was certain to be linked to a nation then there would be a proper independent investigation and then action taken against by the UN and then other nations.

But back in 1914 there seemed to be little interest in following up the links between the Black Hand and the Serbian nationalists.  Many knew they had links to senior military leaders and politicians but never really put any effort into proving it as true. If they had done this logical thing then the cause for the war would of been extinguished, or at least the alliance may have even sought to punish Serbia or let Austria just take its revenge and keep the dispute local. It was this simple following through that could of made so much difference.

Yet in the situation that unfolded, Russia, France and England all came in defending Serbia against an Austrian invasion. This was something of a revelation to me, I had never really thought that the so called ‘good guys’ of the war could of potentially been defending a country that had essentially poured petrol on and lit the fuse to start it.

During the slow lead up to the war the mind begins to boggle at the many possibilities for peace, it seems all parties, France, Germany, England and Austria all tried but failed to secure any effort at peace, individuals had a good go at it, but all seemed to sort of give up powerless at the bureaucratic mess that unfolded.

It is also confusing that histories nominated bad guy – Germany seemed to want to avoid the war altogether right up to the very last moments and clearly thought it could be localized to the Balkan region, this is not the history that we are taught in school.

As a history book, this was tedious but rewarding, there is no doubt I have a much deeper understanding of prewar conditions including a very detailed account of the assassination itself and the events leading up the court case afterwards which made fascinating reading.

This book was a mammoth undertaking just one page of the in depth analysis of pre-war European political landscape had the effect of setting me off to a good nights sleep. There were a few times I nearly gave up, but then out of the blue an astonishing episode in history that I was previously unaware of would keep me glued to the page.

As for understanding of why it happened, I think this is a task that historians and thinkers will have difficulty really understanding for a very long time, however I am glad this book exists because there are plenty of unexpected events that unfolded that just don’t fit into any nationalistic history of the war.

The standard doorbell

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Sometimes I have a sort of philosophical thought bubble, I spend weeks going over a certain subject that fascinates me, mostly the ideas thought of long before my time, covered by science or philosophy. However there is a joy in this process of personal discovery, Buckminster Fuller did this sort of thing in the 1960’s there is value in exploring old ideas, covering well trodden ground just for the sake of it from a modern perspective.

My journey starts with the humble doorbell, I was knocking doors for an upcoming by-election and I started to take note how many people have doorbells. There are a bewildering array of different doorbells, most had a simple functionality: – You pressed the button and the chime went off, that seemed to dictate the overall ‘look’ of a doorbell button. However the particulars of the doorbell seemed to wildly deviate; different colours, chimes, material and design.

The functional played a part for the position of the doorbell, it had to be available for the person at the door to simply press, it was common that people had their doorbell placed at exactly the same height and on the right hand side.  The electric doorbell was invented around 1831, before that people had all sorts of ornate and ingenious ways to tell the homeowner there was someone at the door, these are still around and used, the twisty ringer, the actual bell with a rope on it and the metal fixed knocker are some examples.

At first glance all this seems obvious, humans have a sort of standard for doorbells, I mean there isn’t a huge amount to think about there. But there also seemed a standard for where to ‘place’ the doorbell and a standard for the way the doorbell was actually presented. As I went to each house I started to realise there was a standard and functionality for everything on a house, for the letterbox, the gutters the driveway for the whole house even. Give a child a pen and paper and ask them to draw a house..they draw a roof to windows and a front garden our mental picture of a house is universally standardised from a very young age.

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In Bill Brysons book At Home, he covers briefly the history of many domestic objects, in the beginning of his book he discusses the salt and pepper shaker, Bryson asks an interesting question about the nature of the salt and pepper shaker: Why salt and pepper, why not say salt and cinnamon? What led to them being those particular spices becoming standardised? (He does in fact go into detail to explain the historical reasons why) but his original questioning fascinated me,  you could ask the same question for doorbells, why a door ‘bell’ and not a door ‘buzzer’, why a ‘button’ not a ‘switch’.

 

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Hand outlines found on a cave wall in Indonesia are at least 39,900 years old

I left my ideas about the doorbell for a few weeks until something in the media re-ignited my thinking on the door bell and the concept of standardisation. Some human cave paintings from the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi were dated to about 43, 000 years ago much earlier than any other human art, the striking thing about them is not just their age but their similarity in style and application to paintings from northern Australia from a much later date.

There seems to be a cultural and artistic standardisation going right back almost as far as we can find human artifacts, however the concept of standardisation itself, seems to be framed as a recent discovery mainly confined to the industrial revolution.

Historians and archaeologists sometimes point to a little earlier to weights, coins and measures as examples of standardisation. But here we have on this very ancient wall, painted so long ago signs people culturally had a very precise standard, a form that had to be taught and shared culturally through communication the look and feel of these hand paintings was to persist for thousands of years.

Back to the doorbell, the odd thing about the door bell is that in today’s world it is largely a mass manufactured item something that for 100 years or so people could purchase and place on their door, like in star wars with all the outdated robots hanging around to go to the incinerator there are just a stupid array of different makes and models of doorbells that exist however we can all identify them as standard doorbells.

Philosophy bubbles to the surface here, and I am reminded of the ‘idea’ we have of something, like a Platonic and objects we imagine a perfect doorbell in our minds and a perfect place to place or to think about the object or idea,  this is reinforced by seeing it in existence, in similar places on other houses making or forming a kind of standard of doorbells in our minds.

This standarisation, applies to literally everything we do and create, standardisation is only something we apply to the real world, the actual time and outcome of these material objects is not secured unless a similar idea is imposed on them for the whole duration of their existence, this is where the complexity of the longevity of the hand paintings comes into view.

Psychologically, we can apply standarisation to things like behavior, our behavior can be split up into ideas that require a certain level of standarisiation so it can be communicated, it is here that life itself is included, because like us many species communicate to survive.

Bee’s must standarise how they collect honey or a beaver must standardise how he builds a dam, life must also have the facitlity to create door bells.

I  am not sure how I got so far away from my original thinking about doorbells, but I feel we are linked to this mental formation of standarisiation and the more you look around, the more you start to see it, in objects we create, in our ideas we think about  and in people and their personalities,  even in animals and insects and their behavior.

Yet I can’t see a reason for it other than mere survival, there are objects on our planet like a volcano that are not crafted by standards, but by physical inhert interactions only, yet it is only our minds that form categories and standards for these things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pye Corner Audio:Black Mill Tapes

Some electronica is literally like a drug, you take one or two doses of it and get such a high off that one track you sort of overdose on it. I was like that especially with this one Pye Corner Audio track: Electronic Rhythm Number One, there was just something about the track that made me have it as my only song on repeat for weeks.

In a way when you spend lots of time with music it becomes embedded in your experience, in your life. when music can do this it becomes more than just a throw away track, very few artists are able to achieve this.

Pye Corner Audio, seems to be what I would adventurously call ‘Electronics roots’ I hear something in their sound that reminds me of the music right back at the beginning of electronic music, something pure, experimental, haunting, inspiring. Back then artists like Kraftwerk,Vangelis and Brian Eno were just learning to use all the new technology experimenting learning.

It must of been incredibly difficult to turn the clock back to this time, collecting vintage hardware learning how to do it all over again in today’s world where easily crafted electronic sounds have become prolific. You can tell that Pye Corner Audio have explored and discovered this hardware  again with amazing results, they have given us tracks that are like the lost albums of Brian Eno.

The music gives me shivers sometimes, some tracks are so uplifting: Electronica Rhyhm Number One, Electronic Rhythm Number Five and Into The Wave are three very strong tracks, other tracks are slow experimental and a little off-beat but grow on your over time like Theme Number Eight, has a very Vangelis feel to it.

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I can’t just walk away from Pye Corner Audio, I keep coming back for more and if you want to touch base with the soul of electronic music Pye Corner Audio is a good start.

 

 

 

 

Matua 2012 Pinot Noir

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I have been lurking around the lower end of the Pinor noir market, due to a chaotic year of employment, money has been scarce and unfortunately fine wine is something of a dream at the moment.

I saw a man while searching for a reasonably priced wine, frantically packing Matua Pinot Noir’s into his trolley without checking the vintage.

“They any good mate” I asked and he looked up and smiled.

“They love them at the restaurant, very popular, good colour” He said this smiling and confident.

This seemed like an unusually strong endorsement for a $13 bottle of wine, it sparked my curiosity not only about how he purchased his wine for his restaurant but what sort of customers he had and what they expected.

He took off and I stood staring at the bottle’s price for a long time, finally I just got it- how bad could it be?

Well the wine is interesting it’s aroma has very little to offer except a slight hint of oak and tiny hint of cherry.

My friend was correct about the colour, it has the beautiful deep glimmering Burgundy shade giving it true body. The flavour is saturated in an oakish tones, which conceals the intricate flavours of the Pinot, giving it maybe only three or four strong flavours.

It isn’t smooth, a little hard on the palette, it knocks your tongue around in a greenish overbearing way. This is undoubtedly the reason why it is so low in price, it is a hard working lower class New Zealander, lacking the delicate subtle charms of a wine from a higher strata.

Still, sometimes these wines are really the easiest to be around, they don’t drain your wallet are down to earth and have that cheeky New Zealand relaxed attitude.

The wines strength comes from its region, the fruit is grown in Marlborough and while their are plenty of New Zealand Marlborough wines on the cheaper end of the market that are really very bad,  I would not class this wine as one of them.

It does maybe lean on the mediocre side, but it shows that even the lower end of this market from New Zealand could easily outclass many higher priced Australian Pinot’s

 

Coffee review: Suspension Espresso

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Bean: Tiger Mountain / Brazilian blue

Suspension swap their beans around and try different blends, they are usually of high quality but I guess if you like consistent type of coffee this may not be a place for your staple

Machine: La Marzorro

Froth: Very good creamy tasting froth

Cups: Standard cup is very small but comfortable to hold, white on the inside and chocolate brown on the out, dainty but in a modern fashion

Cocoa: In this cafe it depends on who is serving you, sometimes you will get a beautiful pattern and an even spread but normally it is huge concentrated chunk in the middle of the froth

Taste: This particular blend has no bitterness has a subtle and delicate roasted flavor with strong chocolate overtones, a very nice blend

Strength: Strong end of medium

Time: Always fast, 2 / 3 minutes max takeaway and in-house.

Take away: Small, Medium, Large

Standard cup price: $3.80

Service: A very cool friendly crowd

Rating: Fabergé Gypsy Grey Gold and Diamond Ring

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Suspension espresso

Coffee Review: Birdy’s Cafe Tighes Hill

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Bean: Crema Tikkal 

Machine: A specially renovated Eaema

Milk: Dairy Farmers

Froth: Good decent consistency

Cups: Cone shape, waistline like 90’s style white

Cocoa: Even spread no pattern

Taste: Low bitterness, chocolate tones, very even flavour spreading over the whole palate, a very mellow coffee with a long and delightful aftertaste

Strength: Low / medium

Time: 1 to 4 minutes max, good speed.

Service: Always a pleasure to go there, very friendly

Rating: A gold star with diamonds

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Birdys cafe

169 maitland rd Tighes Hill, Newcastle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee review: Snows Patisserie Marketown

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Bean: Peaberry’s Black Betty (staple)

Machine: WEGA

Milk: Dairy Farmers

Froth: Good froth gently and carefully created

Cocoa: Standard evenly spread, no patterns

Cups: Fantastic cup, black outside ceramic and white inside a good size for a decent amount of coffee and comfortable to the hand

Taste: Slight bitter twist, tending towards a mellow rounded flavor but lacking the chocolate edges and delicate palate

Strength: Medium touching on strong

Take away: Large / Medium / Small

Standard cup Price:$4.00

Wait time: 6 / 8 minutes sometimes more

Atmosphere: Not so great, it is in a shopping centre but it is the best coffee (in) the centre and they make a the best croissants in Newcastle

 

Rating: 1 Silver Star

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Blue Jasmine

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Blue Jasmine has somehow bought me back to the reviewers desk, I have found myself thinking about it in so many different ways I hardly know where to start on this review.

There is something about this movie that reminds me of Citizen Kane. Woody is missing the great revolutionary cinematography of Wells, but the subject matter the breadth of it is similar.

What first grabbed me is that it seems to lead you down a certain Hollywood track, and you feel comfortable being gently careered into this area because of Midnight in Paris, in that movie Woody willingly filled with Hollywood stereotypes, it was romantic and intellectual.

He fiddled with the genre a little in Midnight in Paris, put a few neurotic characters in there and added his style, but it was essentially a Romantic comedy. Because Woody is so unique it added an interesting intellectual slant on what was becoming a dry and boring genre of film.

Now with Blue Jasmine, we get lulled down that Hollywood stereotype avenue again, this is a riches to rags Dickensian tale. So often in a movie like this we are given a sort of moral lesson,  usually there is a ‘I fell from grace but now I am a humble person’  shtick.

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But this isn’t like that; Jasmine, doesn’t come back (spoiler) -she doesn’t recover or become a ‘good’ or ‘humble’ person after loosing everything. Things don’t work out, she goes mad, reality sucks.

In some ways the movie is even more interesting when you imagine the sort of people that Woody Allen has known in his life, and the things he has seen.

Just like Citizen Kane/ William Hearst connection I suspect there is a real life Jasmine or maybe even many Jasmines that Woody has known and watched fall from grace.

I sensed a touch of schadenfreude in this movie maybe even of malice from Woody, but I wasn’t sure it could just as easily been a misplaced impression.

Woody has made so many movies in his life, I think it’s fair to say that unlike someone like Steven Spielberg movie making hasn’t been easy for Woody, he has made plenty of flops and has made mistakes in his filming and acting career and even in his own personal life.

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It’s like all the past experiences of Woody is culminating swelling up, building up a complex fabric for his scripts and movie making, he is starting to test these genres and change them in a way that reflects his own life. He has after all experienced these things like Jasmine, had massive failure and felt and been through those things.

This movie could make some people uncomfortable or it could be interpreted in different ways, already after reading some reviews this seems to be exactly what is happening.

Movies that can be interpreted in many different ways are like a wine with multiple flavors, they are to be kept and savored and age well with time.

This is most certainly one of those very fine films.