I finished the book “Chaos” by James Gleick today. It took me a while to get through it – such a heavy-going book, but i’m very glad i made it to the end. For about half the book i was thinking, “Well that’s very nice … but … so what?!” but i think i got it by the end. My opinion of the term ‘chaos’ has certainly changed significantly in that i now regard chaos as ordered and meaningful; quite different to randomness. I read an article on Madeline McCann that described the investigation procedure as ‘chaotic’ and for me it really meant something very different than it would have done a month ago; definitely not what the journalist intended to convey!

There is a nice little summary of the book here for anyone who would like to know what it’s about but doesn’t want to go into all the intricate details.

I warn you though, i’m a bit fanatical: i made a dragon curve today out of a piece of paper and an ignorant colleague called it a Mandelbrot! I was like: “A dragon curve has absolutely nothing to do with the Mandelbrot set! For a start, the Mandelbrot set uses complex numbers!!” So if you want to sound knowledgeable, be sure you know the basics!! ;)


A strange scientific phenomenon

Is there a scientific law which states that clocks are more likely to stop when you’re away on holiday than when you’re at home to notice them stop?

The last two times we have come home from a trip away, one of our clocks has been found to have run out of battery and stopped. They had previously been running for months, maybe years without stopping, so why should they stop during the time that we were away?! Even when we were only away for 5 nights!!

The books i am currently reading cause me to ask questions like this all the time! I am now reading “Chaos” by James Gleik, which is a welcome relief from the last three scientific books i have read, which gave me a very depressive view of entropy – the state of disorder. Entropy can only ever increase, never decrease. Any system, left to its own devices, will become more and more disordered – which is why my desk gets messy and needs tidying. But even then i am expending energy in the form of heat for the work done in order to tidy the desk. Heat is a disordered form of energy so entropy still increases!

However, the book of chaos tells me that there can be order within chaos, and the most beautiful example it gives is the red spot of Jupiter. Whilst chaotic storms are constantly occurring all over Jupiter, the red spot somehow remains constant: a place of order within the chaos. Simulations have been created to model it, and they produce the same phenomenon. This makes me feel a little more positive about entropy.

* * *

Well, we had a very nice break away, and a very good journey home. I think that 5 nights away is probably my personal optimum, although i felt ready to come home yesterday, i was content to stay another day. We had a really lovely time.

In other news i have just been told that Winchester is the least green city in the whole of England. Oh dear.

Talking about books

I thought i would upload holiday photos tonight … but now the time comes i just don’t feel like it. So i’ll save it for another evening, or possibly the weekend. There’s no hurry.

Instead i find myself wanting to record that i am currently reading The Whole Shebang – A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report by Timothy Ferris, and enjoying it very much. I found it in a bookshop in Budapest and managed to bargain it down from 800 to 600 Forints (which is about £1.70). Okay, the book is about 10 years old, but it is very easy to read and understand, with plenty of comparisons to things i can realistically imagine, to help me visualise the concepts that are being explained. I have learnt all about the age and rate of expansion of the universe, red shifts, space-time distortion … i am currently reading about the many fascinating aspects of black holes! :) Best of all, the book is signed by the author on the first page! ;)

I have always been interested in space, and this book works for me where Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time did not. I tried twice to read it and got baffled by the science. Hopefully, having read this book, i will be able to try the Stephen Hawking one again. I’m also looking forward to learning more up-to-date developments once i have a thorough understanding of what was known ten years ago.

Whilst on holiday i also read a Terry Pratchett book – The Light Fantastic. It reminded me just why i cannot stand Terry Pratchett – just ridiculously stupidly far too random for my liking – but my partner the book for me (off read it swap it) so i thought i should give it a try. Despite myself, i did actually find parts of it quite funny, and i especially liked Death as a character, so maybe i will try reading Mort one of these days.

I very much enjoyed Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, although i was disappointed that an absolutely perfect plot line i thought was coming did not. It seemed too delicious an opportunity to miss, but it almost seemed as if Sarah considered it, began writing it, then let it flop and instead devised a highly improbable plot device to replace it. There was also a particularly obvious line of contemplation that i think should have been pursued, but was not even touched upon. I’m trying to be cryptic to avoid spoiling the book for anyone else who wants to read it … but if anyone already has, i’d be keen to discuss these ideas.

Happy holidays

We are thoroughly enjoying our holiday, although i am also looking forward to going home. We have been to many museums and visited many tourist attractions. We shall probably spend the remaining days re-visiting places we have already been to take some more photographs.

One of my favourite places we visited was a Roman ampitheatre, out of the way where not many people visit. It was thoroughly overgrown, but felt steeped in history. There were hundreds of lizards living in the stones – so pretty they were. I was lucky enough to find a still one and take a photo. Most of them run away when they hear you coming.

Today i am spending a morning on my own, since i am the kind of person who needs to do that every now and then. I have a bottle of water, a book and an iPod, and i shall walk up the hill to find some peace and stillness, away from the crowds and the noise. I am currently reading Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, which i highly recommend. It is intriguing and fascinating, with a really sweet hinted underlying love story. I am not half way through yet so i do not know what might still happen.

I hope everyone is fine. I look forward to coming back home and being in better contact with everyone.