Schrödinger’s Cat panels at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies

The Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies was established in 1940 by Eamon de Valera’s government with three constituent schools of Cosmic Physics, Theoretical Physics and Celtic Studies. By far the most famous name attracted there was Erwin Schrödinger. He gave the lectures that became his book, What Is Life?  there in 1943.

The DIAS now stands on a rather unprepossessing building in Dublin 4:
Along the basement windows, however, are panels illustrating the thought experiment Schrödinger is most famous for:




While I could explain the idea of the experiment easily enough to my children (well, not the equation) I struggled to explain its significance… obviously their focus was on the welfare of the hypothetical cat and not entanglement or whatever. This YouTube video was no help at all:



1939: A fish is named after John Steinbeck, who behaves rather shabbily in response

Surely 2019 sees no other 80th Anniversary more significant than this one? From “The Naming of the Shrew” by John Wright:



Has any taxonomist ever lived to regret bestowing an eponym? Yes, of course. The ichthyologist Rolf Bolin was delighted to receive a signed first edition of one of John Steinbeck’s novels from the hands of the author himself. To repay this kindness, in 1939 he named a species of lanternfish Lampanyctus steinbecki. Soon after this, and for no known reason, Steinbeck asked for the book back. Bolin spent a great deal of effort trying to synonymise the species with another to rid the world and his slighted pride of L. steinbecki, but it remains an accepted species to this day.

I studied The Pearl in school, read Of Mice and Men later on, and have read bits and pieces of Steinbeck here and there, but must admit that he is in the category of “had I world enough and time” authors … and this anecdote does little to revitalise any keener interest.

Don’t trust Alexa Crazy Fact: the name “Wendy” wasn’t invented for Peter Pan (and pig orgasms don’t quite last as long as all that)

One of the skills of Amazon’s Alexa is Crazy Fact. This skills allows Alexa to pop up with a fact which is a little unusual or offbeat. From this, I learnt that in space, no-one can hear you snore.

Recently Crazy Fact informed me that the name “Wendy” was invented by J M Barrie for Peter Pan and didn’t exist before this.

It sounded dubious, and a few seconds of web searching revealed that it is not true:

But we have absolute proof that there were earlier Wendys, thanks to the just-released 1880 U.S. Census and the 1881 British Census (available here). These documents show that the name Wendy, while not common, was indeed used in both the U.S. and Great Britain throughout the 1800s. I had no trouble finding twenty females with the first name Wendy in the United States, the earliest being Wendy Gram of Ohio (born in 1828). If you include such spelling variations as Windy, Wendi, Wenda, and Wandy the number triples.

So there you go. Crazy Fact also claims that pigs’ orgasms last 30 minutes.

This is largely not true, so to speak:


There is one final rumour that has to be addressed: the oft-repeated “fact” that male pigs can orgasm for 30 minutes.

According to observations of males with real sows, copulation duration is typically 4-5 minutes, but can last up to 20 minutes

The first thing to say is that we don’t know what sensations the males – or the females for that matter – experience when they mate, so any talk of orgasms is speculative.

But based on the ubiquitous “gloved hand” method used to coax sperm from male pigs, ejaculation does appear to last a very long time. In a 2012 study of “high performance boars”, the average duration of ejaculation was around 6 minutes. But there was considerable variation, with one male apparently yielding semen continuously for 31 minutes.

It is difficult to know whether this kind of protracted ejaculation can occur in the absence of the “gloved hand”, but it is certainly a possibility. According to observations of males with real sows, copulation duration is typically 4-5 minutes, but can last up to 20 minutes.

Whatever the truth about orgasms, an online primer on how to artificially inseminate pigs warns practitioners not to interrupt the male before he’s done, unless they want a very angry pig on their hands. “If you let loose too soon, be prepared for a challenge.”

I’ll say.

Tim Miller on the Bush funeral and “the sad truth of public theatre”

At his blog Truth and Silence, Tim Miller has a post on the funeral of George H W Bush and what it reveals about the media and our culture..

We have a funny view of politicians. Someone once said that politics is the only profession in which every says they would prefer an amateur to a professional (it was phrased a lot more fluently than that)

As mentioned before I have been reading quite a bit of Edwin Friedman lately. It has provoked a lot of thought for me about leadership, responsibility, and the recurrent patterns of our relationships. It struck me how much is projected onto leaders. Personally, I have always felt I would vote for someone who announced “Public administration is complex and challenging. I don’t have all the answers. Also, there are lots of things I and any government cannot possibly control. I have principles, relevant experience, and will respectfully listen to expertise and respectfully listen to concerns and  complaints – but won’t promise blind obedience to experts or that I can solve every problem.”

Would such a candidate get any, or many votes? Would a political party with a platform of “we don’t know the exact answers, but we will do our best” get anywhere? It seems too trite to load onto politicians the freight of taking the brunt of the decline in influence of organised religion – although I have a feeling they may identify with this post on clergy burnout, for similar reasons.  

Leaders tend to be the landing place of many projections. And when disappointed, the electorate are unforgiving. To give one of many examples, it is reasonably safe to say that Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern are the most despised politicians of the recent past in Britain and Ireland respectively – yet both were the most successful electoral performers of the last twenty years.  Of course, both are despised for very specific things, but some of the intensity is surely due to the rage of our own self-projections proving fallible.

Behind the scenes it does seem most politicians are hard-working strivers trying to do their best and navigate the various competing interests (which, of course, includes you and me and our own interests)

Anyhow, Tim Miller captures this better than I am. Here are some bits I especially liked:

Many of these moments—at least the ones that are now fodder for Twitter and cable news (I put Twitter first on purpose)—are clearly staged to some extent. But it’s also true that many of these kinds of meetings and friendships are genuine. Yet the cynicism of the 2016 election, and the mistrust of public figures and public spectacle that has been going on for decades, begs the question of what is going on here. How can Al Gore be talking to such an evil man as Dick Cheney, and how can Dick Cheney be talking to such liberal scum as Al Gore? Isn’t this the very kind of hypocrisy that normal people despise in politicians? And for those who aren’t talking and are just in the same room together, how can Donald Trump sit so close to Hillary Clinton without doing all he can to finally lock her up? Are these forms of public spectacle just the highest examples of the contradiction and insincerity that lies at the heart of political and social life, or are they examples of what civilization actually is, that people who disagree usually come together, and in some cases are friends?

No one in my lifetime anyway has had the ability to change how politicians and public figures are presented; at best, they are only the manipulators of the media landscape they live in. If anything, Donald Trump merely picked up what was already on the ground and used it better than anyone ever has, and it’s doubtful he would have been elected if the ways we communicate and receive the news wasn’t already so degraded.

That very degradation cannot deal with the complexity and the actual truth that these powerful people embody: that those with vastly different visions for how the world should work just might get along, and that outside of the kinds of rallies and invective the media encourages and the public seems to want, the truth is actually much quieter. So the real sadness of watching George H. W. Bush’s funeral is this: that while the politicians, supposedly the most insincere people in the world, realize the complexity of their positions, the public at large does not.


…Even more powerless than the politicians to change how we interact with others and the world, we regular citizens blindly accept the public theater as actual reality and have ended up despising one another, and quite literally rupturing any sense of wholeness, or a shared soul. Gore and Cheney can talk peacefully, while voters who admire one or the other are proud to hate each other. For my part, I’ve stopped believing that the right or the left can possibly be as idiotic, ignorant, childish, or brutal as the anecdotes that make it onto Twitter or Reddit or cable news claim to show. That is not who we actually are, and while I never thought I’d say such a thing, it’s taken politicians to show me this.







Do you delight?

You act in the system.

You act against the system.

You assert your rights.

Do you delight?

You dissect a power structure.

You reproduce a power structure.

You do not completely lack insight.

Do you delight?

You are fierce. You disrupt.

You do not compromise

As victory is in sight.

Do you delight?

Fury seeps out at will,

Like crushing the gills

Of a toadstool and milk flows, it pervades

All. All is pervaded. Light is occluded.

Do you delight?

A 8½ mile putt

From “Golf’s Strangest Rounds: Extraordinary but True stories from over a Century of Golf” by Andrew Ward



If a golfer putts a ball 8½ miles (13.7km) in 23 seconds, where is the golfer playing? This may sound like a question from a Golf Studies examination paper but it was one that people were asking in September 1997. The answer was ‘on a Concorde flight from New York to Malaga’. The United States Ryder Cup team were en route to Malaga, preparing to meet the Europeans at Valderrama, when they were challenged by the pilot to break the record for Concorde’s longest putt. The previous best was 100ft (30.5m).

The coaching manual suggests that you putt as slowly as possible and give Concorde the maximum amount of time to travel at 1,330mph (2,140km/h) while the ball is still rolling.

On his second attempt, Brad Faxon rolled a 120ft (36.6m) putt all the way along the centre aisle and into a porcelain tea-cup, which was lying on its side. His ball was travelling for 23 seconds. Therefore the ball must have travelled 8½ miles (plus an extra 40 yards (36.6m) for the length of the putt). You might wonder why the golfers needed some distraction. After all Concorde was only in the air for 3 hours 25 minutes. Nobody knew whether the omens were good or bad for the Ryder Cup. In fact they were not that good for Faxon. He lost two of his three matches and the United States lost by 14½ –13½.