Category Archives: Philosophy

A tribute to Robert M. Pirsig

This is a photograph of author and philosopher Robert M. Pirsig taken by Ian Glendinning at Chester, England on 7th July 2005

Talking in some depth about things that seem important – by J A R Willis


This article appeared in the December 2000 issue of Medical Humanities in the series Medicine through the Novel.  It is repeated here as a tribute to one of my greatest inspirations – Robert M. Pirsig – who died two days ago (24 April 2017)


‘Unless you are fond of hollering you don’t make great conversations on a running cycle. Instead you spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them. On sights and sounds, on the mood of the weather and things remembered, on the machine and the countryside you’re in, thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried and without feeling that you are losing time.’ (p 17 of 416)

The gentle voice is incredibly familiar, heard now for the third time, a voice that seems to have got itself into my deepest being. Continue reading A tribute to Robert M. Pirsig

Grandmother’s clock

grandmas-clock-caseThe old hall clock struck four at twenty minutes to six this morning. And then five at six. It’s almost like a code – but, as my wife points out, without that element of consistency which codes require to make them really useful.
I mention this because, endearingly, the old thing behaved itself perfectly all through this Christmas. I had finally given up on it a couple of years ago (when it struck something like twenty five at something like seventeen minutes past three) and since then it had stood, a beloved but silent sentinel, in the hall of our home. But this year, when I was putting the seasonal holly and tinsel in its hair, I suddenly had a whim to give it another try.
I hauled the weight up on its chain and circled the ancient hands to set the time, and as I did so I noticed with surprise that the correct number rang out as they passed each hour. So I gave the pendulum its little push and tiptoed away, pleased that I had restored, if only for a short time, the house’s ticking heart. But, as I’ve just said, it then surprised us by keeping time and striking the hours correctly right through the new year, asking only to be wound each night on my way upstairs to bed.
The way this happened was really quite weird, because now the festive season is over and we have hit 2017, it immediately reverted to being just as erratic as ever.

Continue reading Grandmother’s clock

Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts

Does the panel agree with Michael Gove that we’ve had enough of experts?

That was the question I submitted in advance for the EU referendum debate in Alton Assembly Rooms this Monday evening. Unfortunately it was left to the very end – in fact five minutes after the very end (timed for the England/Slovenia match) – and the panel were asked to give it a one-word answer.

I had been hoping for more than that.

I had chosen my question, after much thought, specifically to Continue reading Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts

Technical gadgets and gizmos on the trip

I do have some technical experience to share if anyone is contemplating a trip of the kind described in these posts of the last four weeks. And the usual disclaimers apply that I am not an expert and this may all be second nature to many readers. However, here goes: Continue reading Technical gadgets and gizmos on the trip

Old talks that still seem relevant

I am still working out how best to use this site.

Although it got several likes, which were much appreciated, I think my Sea Monster and the Whirlpool address is much better placed on its own page rather than here on the chronological blog. So I have moved it to its own page, tidied up the formatting and added some of the slides. That lecture, which I gave as the keynote on ‘Science’ to the 50th Anniversary Symposium of the Royal College of GPs, attracted thousands of hits when I posted it on my first website www.friendsinlowplaces.co.uk and was largely responsible for me coming up as the first ‘James Willis’ on Google for several years a decade or so ago – not bad for what is a fairly common name.

I have now added another talk which meant a lot to me and which I still believe said something important. Professionalism – Red and Grey – discussing the meaning of that confusing word and arguing that we need to restore respect for its more subtle, but ultimately more fundamental, colour. Flavour, if you like. Of course, I would love to receive comments, contributions and discussion. To this end, I have appended the complicated Venn diagram of the two aspects which I and my colleagues developed at the time – you can see that it is very much work in progress. If you are intrigued, have a look at the talk itself.

Red Grey chart

 

 

How many books would fit into a modern solid state drive?

Book and SSD
That’s the new drive in its packaging down on the right

James Joyces’ Ulysses (a famously long book) contains 265,000 words
Formatted as a simple Word document without images it occupies 1.66 MB on my hard drive.
So, dividing 250 Gigabytes by 1.6 Megabytes: 250,000,000,000 ÷ 1,660,000
gives the answer:  = 150,600 copies of Ulysses would fit onto the 250GB SSD

Let’s try to picture that:
Weight
One copy of this nice Folio edition weighs 3.5 kg
Therefore that makes a total of 527,108 kg = 518 UK tons  (about 100 elephants) fitting in the SSD

Shelf Space
One copy is 5 cm thick
That makes a total of 753,000 cm = 7.53 km of shelf space

Area of Paper
This Folio edition of Ulysses has 735 pages, each measuring 18 × 23.3 cm, that is 419.4 cm² (0.4194 m²)
0.4194 m² × 734 pages makes a total of 308 m² of typescript per copy (halved if you use Roughly a 4.8km square on Londonboth sides)
Therefore – Total area of paper required for the number of copies which would fit into the little SSD drive = 46,423,805 m²

There are one million square metres in one square kilometre, therefore it would require 46.4 km² of paper to store that amount of text.
That is a square 6.8 km on each side.

Here is a square of that size over central London (the fine grid lines on OS maps – just visible here – are 1km apart)

Wow! Or as the grandchildren would say, ‘awesome’.

Practical experience of the new EHDC EV charge point at Petersfield

In further pursuit of my exploration of the practicalities of electric motoring I drove the 14 miles to Petersfield yesterday to try out the chargepoint which has been installed there by the local authority.This is the first of a number to be rolled out under the Hampshire County Council energy policy.
This picture shows me soon after arrival, connected up in one of the two bays in the car park in front of the Festival Hall, Heath Street, GU31 4EA
Petersfield chargepoint
The first thing to understand is that this is a commercial enterprise. The chargepoint is installed and run by the energy

Petersfield Chargepoint unit
Neat, but only slow charge

company SSE and you can’t use it at all unless you have their particular kind of smart card with you. I had prepared myself by obtaining this online from http://www.chargepointgenie.com for the payment of £20. (Oddly enough, their emailed confirmation stated $20 – i.e. twenty dollars – but my credit card statement confirmed it was, indeed, 20 pounds sterling.) This standing charge has to be paid each year.

But that is not all – before you can use the card you have to pre-load it with credits, with a minimum payment of £10, enough to pay for two and a half visits to one of their charging stations. Each time you have a charge £4 is debited from your card , whether you are connected for one minute or for the maximum of four hours, and whether or not a rapid charger is available, which it wasn’t in Petersfield.
Anyway, in the selfless pursuit of my researches I had topped up my card before leaving home (total outlay now £30). As the SSE account includes my credit card details I imagine I could have done this at the site by smartphone
Another point to bear in mind is that the SSE network is only one of several, each of which requires its own card. None of them accept payment by credit card like a petrol station. The Ecotricity card is the other network I have subscribed to, but they provide their card free and charging at their stations, which are mainly on major routes and include rapid chargers, is also free.
So, this SSE chargepoint at Petersfield had only one kind of connector – the universal Type 2 connector (illustrated), Type 2 connectorone for each of the two bays. And you need to bring your own connecting cable.
Instructions on the little screen tell you to wave your card near it and wait while it checks your credentials. After about a minute is says you are OK and tells you to connect the cable. After that the charging starts automatically. All this works well and I was pleased to find that I could unlock the car (interrupting the charging) in order to get things I had forgotten and the process resumed without problem when I locked up again. I tested this thoroughly by coming back several times before walking into town for lunch and a bit of shopping.
The standard Hampshire County Council notice (see illustration) Petersfield chargepoint noticeover the chargepoint told me that I might not have to buy a normal parking ticket but as the lady on reception in the Festival Hall didn’t know the answer I bought one anyway to be on the safe side, bringing my total expenditure up to £34.60. The town centre was an easy walk away and by the time I returned to the car 52 minutes had elapsed. The instructions told me to wave the card again to cancel the charging and when I had done that the charging cable released and I was able to disconnect it. When I unlocked the car that end was released in the usual way and I stowed the cable away in the boot.
Back inside the car I was a little surprised to find the car not yet fully charged and that my £4 and 52 minutes had increased the indicated range of the car by only eight miles (65 miles from the 57 when I left it).  I know from experience that that means about seven miles on the road and that so works out at 57p for each mile. Then you have to add the standing charges…
In comparison, our diesel Skoda does more than 400 miles on a £70 fill-up – which equates to 17p per mile. And when I charge the electric car at home it gains eight miles range per hour and provided our solar panels are producing more than the 2kW it draws, which they easily do for more than half the year, it costs me (and the planet) nothing at all.
Another comparison is with the SSE chargepoint at the Rapids Leisure Centre in Romsey, also provided under the Hampshire County Council Scheme.
SSE ChargePoint
SSE chargepoint  at Romsey Rapids Leisure Centre

This point does have a full range of connectors, including both kinds of rapid charger, which should charge the battery up to 80% in 15 to 20 minutes, using the same SSE card and the same £4 fee. That might occasionally be convenient but it would still be ludicrously expensive.

Romsey Rapids connectors
CCS Rapid, Type 2 Rapid (Mennekes) , CHAdeMO Rapid [Connectors at the Romsey chargepoint] Apologies for previous incorrect labelling
When I first plugged in to the Petersfield charge point a couple of passers-by told me they lived next door and that I was the first person to use it. They were friendly, interested and positive, and full of the advantages of electric cars and how they were the future. But I am not surprised that I was the first to use it.
We changed from SSE for our domestic electricity and gas a year ago because of the extreme reluctance with which they administered the feed-in tariff for our PV roof array. In contrast Ecotricity, to whom we changed,seems wholeheartedly committed to making the system work.  I came away from the new Petersfield charge point feeling I had been duped. I would almost go as far as to say that I think Hampshire County Council and East Hants District Council have been duped as well. I passionately believe in electric cars, but I hope the responsible officers will get the message that this is most certainly not the right way to arrange for charging them and that they will not make the same mistakes at other sites. For, reluctant as I am to say it my bottom line is this: even if you didn’t have to pay £30 in advance to use it at all, I honestly can’t think of any circumstances in which this chargepoint would be useful to anybody.