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The following is a story that I wrote for my club’s Tall Tales Competition.

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TICK TOCK TICK TOCK

Bobby went over to the grandfather clock.

He looked up at it. It seemed to climb into the distance. He had many years to go before he would be able to look straight into the strange dial with all its pointers and numbers.

BING BONG, BING BONG..

The clock struck five o’clock. He giggled with glee and jumped for joy. He loved this tune, as it reverberated around the house.

BING BONG, BING…

No BONG ever came.

He waited.

Just silence.

Everything around him had gone completely, utterly, quiet.

Bobby shuffled into the kitchen. Not a sound. No hum from the fridge. No flies buzzing around the ceiling light. He was about to leave when suddenly he noticed the kitchen sink.

A drop of water had left the tap, but instead of splattering against the sink, there it was, suspended in mid air. A tiny orb, shining in the sunlight. Bobby stood there a while. Fascinated. Taking it in from all angles. Eventually he reached out and allowed it to splash gently against his fingers. A tiny droplet ran from his hand, landing quietly against the bottom of the sink.

He jumped up to look out the kitchen window.

He could see trees outside. They were motionless. Then he saw the bird.

Bobby yelped with glee and rushed outside. There it was, wings outstretched, feet off the ground. It had just taken off. It was absolutely rigid. Levitating, as if by magic, just centimetres above the ground. He gazed into the small bird’s eye. He admired the beautiful feathers – a multicoloured hologram, green, blue, red.

He reached out and touched one tail feather. FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP it suddenly came to life and lifted itself into the sky, shrieking all the while. Bobby never let it out of his sight until it was a small dot against the blue background.

Silence returned. Not a sound, not a movement.

Stillness.

Something else had been looking at the bird. Just a short distance away, Bobby noticed his cat. Its eyes were focused, its back was coiled, its legs were bent. It was about to pounce on a creature that was not there any more. But this cat remained utterly inert. It looked like an animal in that Museum that mum and dad brought him to last year. Very gently he set his hand down on the animals back. MIAAAOOW! The cat took fright and launched itself at the nearest tree – disappearing into the branches.

Bobby was confused and delighted at the same time. He walked out into the front garden.

There he saw a wonderful thing! The sprinkler! Everywhere he looked, thousands of little frozen droplets filled the air. It was a magnificent crystal display. A glittering chandelier. He looked on the scene in awe. As he gazed, his foot stepped on the hosepipe. SSS SSS SSS SSS! He yelped with glee! The sprinkler suddenly burst into life and Bobby was splattered with myriads of tiny balls of moving water.

Running away he glanced over the front gate. On the road there was a car. A car he knew well. He launched himself over the gate and ran towards it. Inside the car was his father. But his father looked different. He had a vacant expression on his face, not the usual big wide smile that greeted him every time they came in contact. And he too was rigid, like a wax dummy. The car was not moving and made no noise.

Bobby tried to get his dad’s attention. He ran to the front of the car, gesticulating and waving.

No response.

Bobby was getting frustrated. Then an idea formed in his mind.

What if he touched the car?

Maybe, then, that would move too.

With one small hand, he reached out to touch the front bumper of the car.

BONG. BING BONG.

A single sound. From inside the house. Just barely noticeable above the sound of the sprinkler.

The Grandfather Clock.

Bobby looked at his dad. He looked back towards the house.

He made a decision.

He ran back into the house, towards the clock. His dad would have to wait a little bit longer.

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Carina Nebula

The wonderful image above was the Astronomy Picture of the Day on Google today. It’s a picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Carina Nebula, an emission nebula 7,500 light-years away.

After downloading the full image, I spent a few moments peering over the details when I found this:

Backatcha Hubble

Ah yes. Says it all really.

Semantic Drift posted an article from Salon magazine about how the Bush Administration has been hiring graduates from the ultra-conservative Regent College, founded by Pat Robertson.

“U.S. News and World Report, which does the definitive ranking of colleges, lists Regent as a tier-four school, which is the lowest score it gives. It’s not a hard school to get into. You have to renounce Satan and draw a pirate on a matchbook. This is for the people who couldn’t get into the University of Phoenix.”

It seems that in Washington these days, your religious conviction trumps lesser talents such as brainpower and ability.

I would have fallen off the seat laughing if it were not so discomfiting. Anyhoo – it’s worth a read.

Hmm. “Faith Based Politics”. Anyone for a “Faith Based Car”? Or, perhaps, a “Faith Based Nuclear Power Station”? Thought not.

Last night, I attended the Division A finals of the Toastmasters International Speech and Evaluation Competition (quite a mouthful – sorry!). I was the winner from our local area evaluation contest. (This means that I had to evaluate another speech – to find the strong points and areas of recommendation, then deliver a mini-speech on this to the audience. Preparation time: 5 minutes. Speech duration: about 3 minutes).

The speaker this time was a very humorous one – actually he was as close to a stand-up comedian as I ever have heard in Toastmasters. A big goofy smile on his face, impeccable timing and great use of words. Short, three or four word phrases that had the audience on the floor with laughter. The subject of his speech was how he did a marriage proposal for a bachelor farmer up the country. Quite a hoot, let me tell you.

It was actually quite a difficult speech to evaluate. “How to improve that?” I kept asking myself. Anyway, I managed some (rather weak) things to say, but the way I delivered my message was good, even if I say so myself. I felt quite calm and confident up there in front of the audience. It was a lot different to my previous evaluation contest.

I won a very nice glass trophy for my efforts and I’m chuffed. Not having been very sporty in my youth, this is something rather novel for me.

The next step would have been a trip to Portsmouth to attend the Division Finals (UK and Ireland Finals) – which is a big honour. Unfortunately  I’m unable to go, as my sister is getting married in Toronto on the same day.

I got a few strange glances from people when I told them I couldn’t go.  To be honest, I never expected that I would win. This was the first time I had done so well and the experience of getting so far and speaking in front of such a large group meant more to me than trying to win the competition outright. It was a decision I thought I would never have to make.

Anyway, there’s always next year. I know I can do it now, so perhaps the chance will come again. Next time I’ll make sure my calendar is cleared, though!

Hands up who isn’t familiar with these problems! Real nuggets of wisdom here…

Life After Death by PowerPoint

Irish Nursing Protest

Right, first off, let me state clearly that the nurses are legally entitled to do what they are doing. It’s a free country and protesting is their right under law. Let me also say that they obviously feel passionately about their cause, they obviously have strong grievances that needs to be resolved and they aught to be given a fair hearing. Their union leaders are determined, eloquent, focused on the issues and willing to make exceptions for serious cases, and the best of luck to them.

It’s not towards the the nurses particularly that I’m focusing my displeasure. It’s members of the public who are giving the nurses all their support without a thought that get on my goat. Oh the poor nurses! Such hard working people! They deserve a huge increase in their salary and a 35 hour working week and the big, bad government won’t give it to them. Those bloody politicians! Boo Government! Yay Nurses!

Let’s think about this for a minute, shall we?

Who exactly are the Government meant to work for?

Yes. They are meant to work for us.

And who pays the Government?

Got it in one. You. Me. The Irish taxpayers.

And what do we expect our Government to do with our money?

Yep. You got that one too. Spend it wisely.

And what happens if our Government gives in unconditionally to the demands of the nurses?

As certainly as day follows night, other public unions, e.g. the ASTI, will demand the same treatment. And all this at a time when inflation is going through the roof.

And is that spending OUR money wisely?

I think not.

Let’s think about his. Our health system stinks. For years we have had a situation where people wait for months and months for a diagnosis. For years we have had people waiting on trolleys in Accident and Emergency. For years we have had a dearth of hospital beds, sufficiently qualified consultants and generally a piss-poor service. And yet, for years, billions have been plugged into this ailing system. Why so much money for so little in return? Because, instead of the money going in to make permanent structural changes and improvements, it’s generally been going into the wrong places.

Now we can blame successive governments for this situation and we should, but the problem here has been government weakness, not strength, in trying to manage our money.

There is a process in place to resolve pay disputes and it’s called Benchmarking. Instead of supporting the public unions on the picket lines, the public should be sending the message to them loud and clear that they get involved in the the proper conflict management mechanisms, unless we are happy as a country to slide rapidly into current budget deficits and the curtailment of other important services just so as the public wage bill can be satisfied.

If the nurses want better pay and conditions, fine. However, we should be legitimately asking the question as taxpayers – what do we get as a result? Where is the quid pro quo? Because the money to pay them doesn’t ultimately from the government. It comes from our pay-packets. So, instead of booing the government, we should expect them to negotiate hard on our behalf.

So, if you are on a pension, or unemployed, or are on holidays over here from another part of the world then fire away – you may support the nurses to your heart’s content.

If you are paying taxes here in Ireland though, maybe a moment’s reflection is on the cards.

What if humans no longer existed? What if one day, all the animals woke up to find us no longer here? What would happen to the Earth then? Here’s an account that speculates about what might happen next.

I’m fascinated by these things ever since I read a book that associated the rise and fall of human society in Ireland with pollen samples taken from ancient soils.

We’re meant to be living in an enlightened world. We’re meant to be more educated. We are meant to be more tolerant of other cultures.

So why is it that the most common lunchtime and pub conversations still convey a desire that (travellers, criminals, immigrants, [insert minority group of choice]) be (executed / castrated / locked away and the key thrown away / [insert gruesome ending of choice])?

Seems we haven’t progressed that much after all. 😦

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