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ISSUE #173

Kevin Spacey wonders what on earth he's doing in a blog in the distant antipodes..
Mike's Pith & Wind - House of Cards etc.
Last night Maria and I joined my brother Richard (the Dick of Dick’s Toolbox) and his wife Mary for a meal at Trotters (or Twatters as Dick calls it) in Lygon St Carlton before adjourning to the Nova Cinema a few metres up the road and finding our way via the dimly lit purple corridors to cinema No. 13 where we settled into our well-worn arm chairs (or excitingly armless chairs in Maria’s and my case) to watch Back to Burgundy, a French film for which I’d seen a review by none other than David Stratton in The Weekend Australian a few days before in Flinders. (Congratters Mike – that’s the longest opening sentence yet!)
David had recommended the movie to anyone interested in wine-making and Richard definitely fits that description being considered the wine buff of the family, with a gratifyingly large (and painstakingly enumerated on yer obligatory spreadsheet) collection of wines featuring some vintages going back to the ‘90s and earlier. I have confined my uninformed critical observations of wine to the Pinot Noir variety and can claim to identify a good one to my own satisfaction (without taking the trouble to remember what it is). There was no choice of Pinot Noir in the ‘glass of’ selection at Twatters and so I had what was on offer, which was Jack & Jill from Scotchmans Hill, which Richard described from previous experience as ‘inoffensive’, but which I found to be so devoid of character I would add ‘inconsequential’ to the description.
Anyway, Back to Burgundy was an absolutely charming movie, not least I suppose because it was devoid of any special effects, visually or aurally. It was simply très charmant. Loosely based on my favourite parable (the Bible could well be reduced to this one parable in my opinion) of The Prodigal Son, it explores the daily grind of a family producing organic wines in Bourgogne with the overlay of an existential family crisis, all filmed with the lightest of touches by director Cédric Klapisch. It’s probably symptomatic of my age, but I was in tears at several key moments – and I wasn’t alone from subsequent reports.
One of the surprising tear-inducing scenes was the party. I got a T-shirt from Aunty Margaret for my birthday with ‘Party Animal’ inscribed on it. I don’t know if there was irony intended, but I’m probably the least party-inclined human imaginable. This is partly due to my parents being very party oriented in my early teens. Coming into contact with drunken revellers in that context when you’re young and sober, (compounded by my taking The Pledge courtesy of the local Presbyterian Sunday School), is prone to fill you with dread and disgust, but generally the parties I have attended in the dominions have been dull affairs, even dull to turgid for the most part. (The fault could be all mine, of course).
This Burgundy movie party however is uplifting and filled with.. read more
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Dick's Toolbox - Navigation
Once upon a time where we were geographically positioned on or above the surface of the globe was something of a problem. Where anything was, including the ship or shaky canvas and wood aircraft that we were in, was a problem defined with very little precision. The insoluble perplexity of insufficient data and tools were characterised by the lament “Where are the stars and planets, where is my compass or sextant!” This often ended when the craft ran into a mountain or into an unknown landmass on a dark and stormy night. Dead reckoning navigation was aptly named.
We often forget that Columbus was sailing for China when the Americas got in the way. Lindbergh used just a compass, hopefully sufficient fuel, and the fact that Europe was conveniently large on his solo transatlantic flight. And he was also rather lucky, for a person who had no serious navigational training, that the pressure distribution over the Atlantic on the two days of the flight was such that the net wind drift was zero—“the first time such unusual weather conditions have been recorded by weather experts.”
The concept of locational precision is actually quite recent and built on large amounts of pain and suffering. Sir George Everest the British geographer and surveyor, after whom the mountain was named (its original name was Peak ‘B’) surveyed a large part of India which necessitated carrying five hundred kilogram theodolites and a large measurement chain through the jungles, plains, valleys and mountains. Everest (pronounced Eev –rist) never saw the mountain and opposed it being called after him saying that it could not be written in Hindi or pronounced easily. Owing to Nepal and Tibet’s exclusion of foreigner the search for local names was hampered. However the Tibetan name Chomolungma (Holy Mother) appeared on a 1733 map published in Paris by the French geographer D'Anville but that was French at what did they know? The Nepalese know it as Sagarmatha though this was coined in the early 1960s.
Nowadays with various GPS (Global Positioning Systems) we can get from A to B with remarkable precision - at least whilst the power flows or the battery has a charge. If you had to say what was one of the useful inventions of the twentieth century this would have to be close to the top. How else could we confidently drive into rivers in Scotland and cul de sacs in Spain without in-car navigation? How else could we drop high explosive ordinance down the chimney of a remote Afghan settlement or land at the right airport?
Yes I know that in the early days of the cold war the Americans claimed to be able to drop a bomb from a Flying Fortress into a bucket from 50,000 feet but in fact, before GPS they were lucky to be in the right country. And when the developers of the V2 rocket wondered where the safest place to observe its landing might be they decided that the bunker should.. read more
Wazza's Trans-Tasman Tales - Wild Boars and Seals - Chaos and Complexity
 “Chaos theory seeks an understanding of simple systems that may change in a sudden, unexpected, or irregular way. Complexity theory focuses on complex systems involving numerous interacting parts, which often give rise to unexpected order. The framework that encompasses both theories is one of nonlinear interactions between variables that give rise to outcomes that are not easily predictable.” Social Work
Now that the Thai cave near-calamity has been averted and the Wild Boars have been rescued by the Seals there’s an opportunity to reveal a nice symmetry that characterises this event. Chaos and complexity are different properties that are co-implicated in each other, which is a way of saying that neither can exist separately without involving each other. When tricky ideas like this emerge, theories for explaining them soon follow and the definition above is one such. However, it’s all very well to read an explanation, but something else altogether to get one’s head around it, so an opportunity to explicate it further with a worldly example is not to be missed.
For the young Thai Wild Boars football team, an apparently simple but challenging team-building excursion became dangerously chaotic as a consequence of unexpected and irregular weather conditions, which in turn are inherently complex, and the ensuing interactions between both quickly became very unpredictable. For the Thai Navy Seals and cave diving specialists called in, the complexity of the cave system confronting them together with potential weather conditions presented a chaotic challenge calling for highly tuned responses to nonlinearity.
Here I’m going to draw on Chaos and Complexity theories to suggest that the ‘successful’ outcome of this event is mainly due to the actors involved letting the nonlinear interactions between the variables follow their innate courses. Rather than resorting to numerous ‘experts’ undertaking a highly technical, complicated analysis of the situation, environment, circumstances, components etc, instead a small cohort, well-experienced in working within the chaos of the unfolding situation, promptly gathered and self-organised to address the challenges. (It’s worth noting at this juncture the divergent attempts by Elon Musk to set about remotely engineering a very complicated ‘space-age’ solution to one particular part of the perceived problem.) In some respects the rescuer Seals were advantaged by the physical confines of the working environment that kept observation, reportage and interference to a minimum. This also had an interesting effect on news coverage; as there was no ‘photo opportunity’ reporting was limited to talking heads, which are minimised on mainstream media. The result appeared to produce a sort of reverse feedback that restricted the potential for irrelevant influences to detrimentally upset the existing chaos-complexity interactions and critics had little opportunity to foment. read more
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