Have you spoken with God today?

Location: Ireland

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How do you eat yours?

Just on a practical note - do you know when you boil and egg and pop it into your egg cup? Do you or do you not do the following: wider end of the egg goes down, narrower bit of the egg is at the top. Why do we do such a thing? Eggs were not designed for teaspoons, nor it seems were teaspoons designed for eggs. Such a way of doing things results either in a) too much of the top of the egg needs to be cracked off so as to enable access of said spoon or b) spoon doesn't fit.

This is what I say - turn your egg upside down. This way, you've a lovely wide bit of the egg to crack open.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is that the best we can do?

Ah Avatar, silver screen megaflick of epic proportions. So digitally delightful that 'epic' is made redundant. Compare the CGI splendour in this with, for example, Titanic - where a CGI man walking across a CGI ship looked like he was ice-skating. Marvel at it's marvelousness, wonder at it's wonder, be awestruck at it's awesomeness. It is funny though that for all this CGI brilliance, the best the best brains in Hollywood can come up with in terms of 'out-of-this-world' creatures are simply smorgasbords of our own beloved animals.

Imagined discussion at the office of Avatar on Monday morning sometime in the past few years:
Chad (head of creature development): Okay, what we want people to realise is that these creatures are not what we're used to - they're totally different. We're looking for ideas people. Discuss.
Brad: Right Chad, I've been thinking about this for three years and it's been my entire job on the film and here's what I'm thinking. Do you know the way humans are about 6 foot tall with eyes, ears, noses etc.?
Chad: Go on.
Brad: Well how about our new creatures are slightly taller with big eyes, pointy ears and flat noses? And get this, their 'skin' is blue.
Chad: Chad, you're a genius. Get this man an Oscar®.
Brad: I don't like to blow my own trumpet Chad but I think I may have changed cinema forever.
Chad: Agreed.

And that's not to mention the discussions that gave us the horses in Avatar - "Let's give them an additional, superfluous pair of front legs, kind of like the spare wheels that forty foot trucks carry everywhere." "So if one pair of legs gets broke, they have another?" "Precisely."

Or what about the floating mountains? "Right so I'm thinking that every cinema-goer that will see Avatar will only have had the experience of mountains that stay pretty much rooted to the spot. Let's make ours float." "Do they do anything different to earth mountains?" "They float." "Anything else?" "No."

But here's the problem - all they're doing is taking already created things and sticking them together (sometimes shoddily) with CGI blu-tac. They're not actually creating anything...what I want to see is a film where there are creatures that are genuine creatures - creatures that don't have eyes to process light but instead have slebals. And instead of skin, they have sretoocs. And instead of exo-skeletons or the other types of skeletons, they have something entirely different altogether. In fact, they don't need skeletons at all because they're bodies are in an environment where gravity is perfectly tuned to keep them coherent. Anyway, perhaps I'm stating the obvious so let's move on.


Funny that when one is filling ones toilet cistern with bottled water to flush it, you realise that the average cistern uses 9 litres of water every time it's flushed. That's 4 two litre bottles of Tesco's finest and then another half bottle. Isn't that mad? Every time! And to fill the average basin for doing the washing up, about 5 or 6 litres is needed...and that usually only does half the washing up before it's manky.


In all our developing, we think we are the bees knees. Yet show me something you have created in the truest sense (as opposed to sticking other things together). Or show me how to live without using loads of water - the most basic necessity since time began. And we think we're great? "Phooey," I say. We are good but only because the raw materials we're working with are amazing. We are good but only because the basic necessities of life literally keep raining down upon us.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Nations watch horizon planes with terror,
fearful of all but their own.
Parties proclaim their solution as the only sensible way,
the only civilised way dammit!
Groups find solace in shared outrage,
"they can't do this!" they cry.
Neighbours terrotorise their communities,
ruffling curtains, straining eyes.
Eyes used to come in pairs but not now,
even the indivisible has been impaired and conquered.

Monday, August 11, 2008

1 : 6,716,117,644

Well the Olympics have gotten underway and maybe it's just the cynic in me or the old age but they don't hold the same allure that they once did for me. I still pop in and out as I'm having my dinner or whatever but I can take them or leave them. It's interesting though to think about how the Olympics and other such pursuits affect us psychologically and as the population increases, are more and more of us giving ourselves over to mediocrity? Now I'm no expert in the study of population but as far as I can gather, the number of humans on the planet is increasing and has been doing so since the time when there were no humans. I've no idea whether it's going to plateau anytime soon but one thing is clear, as individuals, we are becoming less and less of a novelty in our world...less and less unique if you will.

I wonder how that affects us psychologically...Surely when Adam and Eve were wandering around the planet, after the fall, one of the things that must have popped into their heads was how special they were, how they were the only ones of their kind on the planet, how everything revolved around them (figuratively speaking of course!)...how proud they must have felt. And now the best we can do, because there are 6,716,117,644 people on the planet and counting, to feel unique and special is to excel, to rise above the masses and be noticed. The problem is that, mathematically speaking, the more people there are, the more difficult it is to rise. Of course, it's easy to rise to the same height or level of achievement (this can be clearly seen as world records are broken) but relatively speaking, this is much lower as more and more people 'excel' and also, and this is my point, as more and more people exist.

One may look at it like this: Just say for example we put twenty people in a straight line along an over-sized, novelty x-axis and each person stands an arbitrary unit apart. Now if we label the y-axis as being 'achievement' or 'level of excellence' and one of those people rises five units along the y-axis, it is quite an obvious peak and if it were drawn, it would be clear for all to see and admire, thus affording the person fame, fortune and all the other 'f' words they care for.

However, if we put 6 billion people along the x-axis and one of those rises 20 units along the y-axis of excellence, it is theoretically and virtually negligible as any mathematician worth their salt (and most who aren't worth any salt) will tell you. So what does that feel like oh excellent one? To have done all you can to achieve excellence and still not be able to able to break through the meniscus of mediocrity?
I'm sure it can't be pleasant. Whether or not you put it down to our innate pride or our desire to excel, both of these take a hit as we become more and more anonymous...as we become more and more uniform...as we become more and more homogeneous...as more and more procreation means we become more and more linear.

It was only this Saturday in one of the weekend sections of a paper that a columnist was bemoaning the fact that he was getting bored with music...that as he approached music as an à la carte consumer, picking and choosing which tracks he wanted, he realised that it was becoming dull to him and so on. Again, I'm no music historian but we are surely reaching a (if not the) saturation point when it comes to music, not to mention film and, though I admit to irresponsible extrapolation, every other major artistic discipline. To take the music business as an example, long before apple started bobbing for customers, generally speaking, mainstream music was becoming more and more well...mainstream. And as more and more of the supplementary streams were engulfed, torn to bits and left high and dry by the mainstream, excellence and individuals' uniqueness were out the proverbial window.

So what is one to do, musician or otherwise? If we are hardwired to be unique and to be 'excellers' and to do great things with the world around us, how can we possibly function when we are (as I'm guessing anybody who's reading this is) average Joe or Mary Soaps? Well I think the answer lies in God... We are not necessarily going to be the most excellent person in the world at what we do if we focus on God. However, we will become closer and closer to what he made us to be and so, though through the eyes of the world we are possibly even further away from breaking through the average, in God's eyes, we are excelling. We are becoming all that He created us to be. Though this may sound airy fairy to some or it may sound strange to others, I wonder isn't that precisely what Jesus meant when He said "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses His life for my sake will find it." It is when our focus is so much on the Lord Jesus Christ, on God, that we truly lose our lives, we forget ourselves, we forget our pride and our selfish ambitions. And yet the funny thing is, it's when we focus on God (and it is true that that which you focus on, you become like) that we truly find our life because we become more godly, more resembling His image and likeness. It is a beautiful thing when something that was created fulfills its purpose. I think often we only realise how beautiful it is when it stops working (as anyone who has encountered the blue-screen of death or has had a puncture will tell you). Let us all wake up and realise that God created us with a purpose and that purpose is to bring glory to Him. He created us to find our whole purpose for existence in Him. Let us seek to be as observant with the spiritual aspect of our lives as we are with the puncture. Let us look at it and realise that it is in need of repair. Let us stop denying that which is staring us blankly in the face. We were made for God...We find our meaning and our purpose in God...It is only by centering our lives on God that we will start to live...It is when we do this and we accept that we need to be reconciled to God; that we need to repent of all the wrong that we have done in our lives, not so as to earn our way into His good books but out of thankfulness and admittance that the Lord Jesus Christ has done it all on our behalf and all we need to do is accept that by faith.

Let me draw this to some kind of (hopefully) concise closure. Nowadays, if we are to rise above mundane mediocrity, we have to climb so high up the y-axis of excellent that it's either humanly impossible to get there or humanly impossible to stay there. When we look to the living God, we see the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son who enables us to rise. The mind-boggling thing is though that instead of expecting us to climb up to Him, He comes down to us. God becomes man...He humbles Himself to that extent. And it is when we look to this God-man, who humbled Himself that we become more like Him...we humble ourselves (for what other response could we have)...we accept that He has done it all...and it is then, that we find life...it is then that we realise it isn't the bland linear x-axis that is the problem, it's that all the while, we have been looking side-on at a great masterpiece...and as it is slowly turned upright, the colours, the faces, the landscapes, the past, present and future of this Masterwork begin to become clear and we sing "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord for He is great, I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."

And slowly the '1' in the title of this post becomes less and less 'me' and more and more 'God'...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Who ate all the oil? (or The Artificial Sun)

I wrote the following back in 2006...It probably wasn't overly prophetic back then which emphasises all the more how long we have been faced with what we are faced with now.

As mankind traverses its way through a field of much uncertainty, there is no area of greater concern than that of finding a renewable source of energy. For centuries, we have been relying more and more heavily on the crutch that is fossil fuel. Like an elderly man leans more and more on his nightstand each morning just to get him out of bed, we too have come to the stage where we simply cannot carry out our daily lives without fossil fuels. They quite literally are the power behind our very existence. And just like that elderly man realises that one day, that nightstand simply won’t be able to support him anymore, we have come to the dawning of the inevitable – fossil fuel will not last much longer.

You may well be thinking that this all sounds very ominous and may well be quite a headache for billions of people. And you may well be right. Thinking about it logically, it would seem that we have three options: Our first option is that we immediately resign ourselves to literally reversing our style of living to that of a couple of hundred years ago where people got around under their own steam (or the steam of their donkey) and conserve what little fossil fuel is left so that it can be displayed in museums for generations to come so that our grandchildren may gaze in awe and wonder at these lumps of “coal?”. The second option is that we continue as we are, ignoring the inevitable until one day, we go to fill up our car but to find the garage is all out. The garage calls it’s supplier but to find that its supplier is all out, the garage’s supplier calls some guy in a hot country far away who, to the misfortune of humanity, realises that his supplier (the earth) is also all out. Now, admittedly the first of these options holds a certain Amish charm but all in all, these options present extremely limited opportunities to ‘advance’ as mankind defines the term. And that is where the third option comes in.

The third option is to find an alternative that can realistically fuel our insatiable appetite for energy. Now this sounds quite difficult to achieve and it most definitely is but in China, this is exactly what they are doing with the aid of superconducting technology. This is an area that has not quite come out of the blue. China has already built a similar device in the early 1990’s [1] in partnership with Russia. The device that is currently being built is a full superconducting experimental Tokamak fusion device, which aims to generate infinite, clean nuclear-fusion-based energy according to [2]. (The Tokamak takes its name from a Russian snack which has the same toroidal donut shape as the fusion device.)

The project is called EAST (experimental advanced superconducting Tokamak) and will require an investment of nearly 300 million Yuan. This sounds like quite a substantial amount of money but is only about one fifteenth of the cost of similar devices being developed in the other parts of the world. It is believed that deuterium extracted from the sea can be used in a deuterium-tritium fusion reaction under huge temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius. After this nuclear fusion has taken place, the deuterium extracted from one litre of sea water will produce energy equivalent to 300 litres of petrol. It is no surprise that a device that can withstand these kinds of temperatures will be no less than an ‘artificial sun’. Once it is also able to control a deuterium-tritium fusion reaction it will be able to supply nearly infinite, clean energy.

Russia is not being left behind in this. It is reported at [3] that Russian engineers have managed to create a magnetic field which is 20 million times more powerful than that of the earths. Magnetic fields of this strength will allow them to control a thermonuclear reaction. The only thing holding them back is time: the aim is to grip previously heated plasma with this field in a few nanoseconds in order to ‘light the sun’. So far, 5 microseconds is the best achieved time.

Now this all sounds very similar to a nuclear power station but the fundamental difference between fission and fusion is the key. Fission reactions are based on splitting atoms releasing huge quantities of energy. This type of reaction is infamous for it’s involvement in the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fusion reactions differ in that they are based on forcing the nuclei of atoms together releasing even greater amounts of energy as in the Hydrogen bomb or the sun. In the sun, the energy required to overcome the charges that repel the atoms from each other is produced by the high temperatures and the high pressures (the temperature of the sun is over 15 million degrees Celsius and the pressure is 100,000 times that on the earth’s surface.) It is not possible to create the level of pressure required but higher temperatures may be used to compensate for this ‘low’ pressure. It has been stated earlier that the reactions would be possible under temperatures of 100 million degrees. To the average man on the street it would seem that this would be difficult to attain but temperatures of around 300 million degrees have already been achieved in experimental reactors. At these temperatures, plasma is formed by the electrically charged gases. This plasma is a form of gas that has a great deal of energy looking for a way out. This has been quite a problem to solve. Even if a material was found that could contain the plasma, how would it possibly withstand such high temperatures? The answer of course came in the form of the magnetic field and it was from this idea that that the unusual shape was adopted. [4]

The devices being constructed in China and Russia are not only seen as stand-alone devices but are also expected to play a part in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). This is a project that has contributions from many different countries, including The People’s Republic of China. According to [5], it is technically ready to start construction and the first plasma operation is expected in 2016. The part of the device which is of particular interest is the superconducting magnet system. It consists of 18 Toroidal Field (TF) coils, 6 Poloidal Field (PF) coils and a Central Solenoid (CS) coil, Correction Coils. As stated at [5] superconducting saddle-shaped correction coils placed around the machine outside the TF magnets are used to accommodate field errors due to manufacturing inaccuracies or to misalignments during assembly of the magnet coils, as well as to control resistive wall mode plasma instabilities. It goes on to say that both the CS coils and the TF coils use a similar superconductor configuration. The superconductor is an Nb3Sn cable-in-conduit type. This compound is brittle and initially the wires contain separated Nb and Sn (as well as a copper matrix) which react together after a 200 hour heat treatment at 650 °C. This can only be performed after all cabling and conductor bending operations are complete, but before any temperature-sensitive coil components are added (such as the coil electrical insulation). It must also be noted that, to maintain the cryogenic temperatures needed for superconductivity, the tokamak vessel and superconducting magnets are located inside a thermally shielded cryostat.

Unlike fission which is widely regarded as being at least potentially dangerous, a fusion reaction requires leak-tight confinement, not because of the possibility of a catastrophic chain reaction but because otherwise, the plasma involved will be extinguished. As well as this advantage, there are other environmentally friendly advantages: the fuels used in these types of reactors are deuterium and tritium, both isotopes of hydrogen, and both non-radioactive. There are also no hazardous wastes produced as any reaction products are either absorbed by the surrounding lithium or are non radio-active like helium.

All in all, it would seem that we may not be at as much of a loss as we are led to believe by the sceptics. However, there may also be an interesting period of transition in which we are all asked to lay off the energy for a while. If I was a betting man though, I would put my money on the class of 2106 wondering what all the fuss was about (instead of having to worry if they’ll have enough candle-light to finish their physics assignment). It’s so simple, it’s beautiful.


[1] Angola Press (2006) China to build world’s first "artificial sun" experimental device [online], available: http://www.angolapress-angop.ao/noticia-e.asp?ID=409853 [accessed 3 May 2006]

[2] People’s Daily Online (2006) China to build world’s first "artificial sun" experimental device [online], available: http://english.people.com.cn/200601/21/eng20060121_237208.html [accessed 3 May 2006]

[3] Pravda.ru (2006) Russian engineers from the Federal nuclear centre in Saratov will attempt to light an artificial sun on the Earth.[online], available: http://english.pravda.ru/science/19/94/379/11675_technology.html [accessed 3 May 2006]

[4] People’s Democracy (2006) An Artificial Sun on Earth [online], available: http://pd.cpim.org/2003/1228/12282003_snd.htm [accessed 4 May 2006]

[5] http://www.iter.org/index.htm

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ups and Downs

As the French Philosopher Jean-Michel Plateau once remarked "You must go up a hill before you can go down one." It was this that came to mind as I cycled home from Cork airport after a splendid trip to London...Considering what I've written here before, I think my view of the Christ-following life is one that is filled with ups and downs. Though we can surely expect various types of prosperity at times and good times at times, we must also expect the down times, the persecution, the abased times (as Paul puts it with the help of Mr. N. King James). I'm wondering though am I leaning towards a view that is far too close to a swings-and-roundabouts perspective. In other words, if I am going through a down-turn, is the only thing that keeps me going, the hope of better times to come? Surely that's a part of it but there must be a more comprehensive, underlying, central thing. Psychologically, it seems to be quite an ingrained part of who we are (humans) which is indicated by such sayings as "Every cloud has a silver lining" and so forth...yes, I can't think of any more...oh wait, I have one: as Homer said (as taken from the producers of Waiting to Exhale) "When there's nothing left to believe in, believe in hope"...and so forth!

So what should we expect from God? When we're going through a tough time, should we simply be clinging to the hope of better yet to come? When we're going through a good time, should we be wary of the coming drought? How is that we get to the stage where we know how to be abased and to abound? On first glance, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't sound like Paul (Philippians 4:12) is advocating a kind of immunity to the circumstances (as I often think it sounds) but rather is telling us we don't just seek to ride the storm as it were but we seek to be content in the midst of the storm.

Why does this come to mind? Well as I've already mentioned, I was coming back from a trip to London the other day which was great. However, the last day of the trip was, in a word, unpleasant. I had booked a flight which was to leave at 6:20 am. With a train journey to the airport which would take 46 minutes and a walk to the train station that would take 30 minutes, I duly arose at 3:50 am, left the apartment I was staying at, walked half an hour through London streets (taking one wrong turn), arrived at the train station in plenty of time, got on the train (having purchased my ticket in advance too) and waited the twenty or so minutes for the departure time. The departure time came and went and to cut a long story short, 40 more minutes came and went before we hesistantly started to inch forward...Though I wasn't impressed, I was sure that we would arrive on time but we didn't. We arrived at precistely 6:17 am, I sprinted as hard as I could through the airport to the first Ryanair person I could find and asked them was I too late. They said "Yes" and that I should go to ticket sales to buy a ticket for the next flight...I thought, how bad could this be? Well, though much internal debate raged, my decision was effectively made for me as the only way back to Ireland that day was to fly to Cork (Belfast, Dublin, Kerry were no-go's) and the flight to Cork was at 10 to four that afternoon...and this one-way flight also cost twice as much as my original return flight cost. So I headed back to London then, had a genuinely lovely day in the sun but all the while was thinking 'why?' And I am still wondering.

Now the point of all this is not to bemoan Ryanair for it wasn't their fault and if you fly with them, you take your chances of getting ripped off if you don't dot all your i's and cross all your t's. The point is not to just moan or whine for the sake of it. The point is, what does one do? How does one be content in this circumstance? I know that compared to what people have suffered, do suffer and will suffer, this is small fry but I'm not even beginning to compare them. But when one comes across a genuinely frustrating and annoying circumstance like this, what are your options?

For the sake of structure, at the moment I see my options (considering what I would generally do) are 1. Bring it to God and say "I don't know why God, but you do and therefore I'm going to just trust though I may never know why." I find that I very often take this option and I feel that it has often brought me to a point where I do see some reasoning or purpose behind the situation and it brings me to a point of contenment. 2. Try and see what lessons there are to learn purely through reasoning. In this case, the things that I though about were: God is repaying me for the bad things that I've done. I quickly sought to dispel this superstition and it became replaced by: God is disciplining me for the lack of time I've spent with Him over the last while and He's seeking to bring me back to Him. I think this may endure but I have drawn such a fine line between the two that I find it difficult to stay on either side of the line, regardless of which side I want to be on. God is showing me that I haven't been fully converted 'of the wallet' yet and has taught me this as part of His ongoing plan to take one of my clutching fingers at a time off my wallet. Even as I type, I'm finding that this actually seems to be the reason and that it is truly a lesson I won't quickly forget. I think with a little perspective, I'll be able to see fully if this is what I am to learn (of course among a myiad of other subtle lessons). I think the slight difficulty I have with this is that the reason I booked the early flight in the first place was because it saved me money and this then begs the question of "What's being flathulach with money and what's realising that it's all God's anyway and not clinging onto it?" But for the sake of completion, I'll go onto the other thoughts I had...Maybe God is giving me an opportunity to see the parts of London that I missed out on during the previous days (I did get to see Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St. James' Park, The Changing of the Guard and three more Aston Martin Veritages...oh and Boris Johnson cycling to the Houses of Parliament (or maybe No. 10, I'm not sure).

I think I must leave it there as I'm not sure yet...maybe I'll think more. If it was a lesson, it felt like a very harsh one. If it was discipline, what was it for? If it was to realise that I need to let go of my wallet, why such an elaborate lesson? Or should I simply say, as I often do "Who am I to question?"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trusting or presumptuous?

Arguably the foundation stone in any relationship is trust. I think in our relationship with God, the venn diagram that illustrates the relationship between trust and faith has a very large area of overlapping. Abraham had faith in God...how different to that is simply 'trusting' God?

Anywho, to get to my point (or at least, question), how do we know when we are trusting God and how do we know when we are being presumptuous?

Maybe one could say that presumption is based on nothing but our own whimsy whereas trust is based more upon statements or promises made (explicitly or implicitly) by the other person (and the character which they display)...but if trust is based on statements or promises made by another (regardless of how impossible they seem), then where does that leave faith? Abraham had faith in the character of God but didn't necessarily know (in fact, was wrong) how God would deliver himself and Isaac in the famous son-sacrifice scene.

So in a practical sense, what is it that makes us put our foot on the water à la Peter? Is it because we fancy seeing if we can walk on water for the craic or is it because our Lord has called us to walk on water?

When, how and why does presumption give way to trust and/or faith?