Sunday, 20 September 2015

David Hume and Buddhism

Alison Gopnik: How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis
As I was doing my research, many unfailingly helpful historians told me that my quirky personal project reflected a much broader trend. Historians have begun to think about the Enlightenment in a newly global way. Those creaky wooden ships carried ideas across the boundaries of continents, languages, and religions just as the Internet does now

 [via Danny Yee's blog]

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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Brassens in space

This is just the way I feel about it, too.

[Via Bad Astronomy]

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Tuesday, 15 September 2015

one thousand miles

I’m now back home in the UK, after a lot of sitting in planes.

Here is almost, but not quite, a map of the travelling I did while in New Zealand.

Google maps gives me a “route cannot be modified further”, so I cannot put in the precise route from Dargaville to Whangarei.

Now I didn’t actually drive all of that myself: the trip to Cape Reinga was in a coach.  But hey, I travelled about a thousand miles.  Well, plus the 20 thousand plus miles to get there and back!

I saw so many stunningly beautiful and amazing things.  And yet the map shows how little of the country I actually covered: less than half of North Island, and none at all of the larger (and I am told, even more beautiful) South Island.  Next time…

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Hamilton Gardens

Today was another relaxed day with my friends, breakfasting on duck egg and honey pancakes, chatting, then pottering around their smallholding.  In the afternoon we visited the nearby Hamilton Gardens.  This has a variety of different areas: we explored the Paradise Collection, the Fantasy Collection, and the Productive Collection, leaving the Cultivar Collection for another time (maybe!).

These collections were individual gardens in a variety of styles.  Interestingly, these gardens were not linked by a continuous path, but each was reached through a small "portal" area, which acted like a palette cleanser between one garden and the next.

Google Earth view of the various gardens.  The three "portals" are visible as walled circles (left, centre), and a hedged square (right).  The circular "snail" towards the centre top is the entrance to the entire collection.
First we went to the Paradise Collection, accessed through the square hedged portal.

portal area to the Paradise Collection
panorama: Japanese Garden of Contemplation
view through a ceramic bamboo screen: Chinese Scholars Garden
the 1.4m long, 250kg, bronze Celestial Yuan of Taihu
view down to the Chinese Scholars Garden
a riot of spring colour in the Indian Char Bagh Garden
Italian Renaissance Garden
The Paradise Collection also included an English Flower Garden (which brought it home to me more forcefully that it is barely even spring here at the moment), and a Modernist Garden (hmm, yes, well).

Then it was off to the Fantasy Collection, through its circular portal.

the Tudor Garden -- although it reminded me more of Portmeirion
pavilion: Chinoiserie Garden
There was also a Tropical Garden in this collection, but since I was in sub-tropical rain forest earlier in the week looking at massive trees, I was not as taken with it as the others.  Further gardens are being prepared, including a Surrealist Garden,  We glimpsed parts of this in skeletal form through a hedge; a suitably surreal experience.

Finally, the Productive Collection, through its circular portal.  This portal was rather interesting.

Google Earth view of the portal: there seem to be strange curved lines running across it.
the portal from the ground, showing the various curves in closeup
My friend asked me "do you know what this is?"  I stared at it for a while, and it was the asymmetrical figure eight shapes that gave it away, especially combined with the spike casting a shadow (out of view).  The figure eights look like analemmas, the shape traced out in the sky by the sun at a given time of the day over the year.  Here it's the path of the shadow cast by the sun.  There were three analemmas, for the path traced at noon, and at an hour before and after noon.  The long curves going across the picture are the paths traced by the shadow of the spike over a day, for several different days of the year.  What a wonderful concept!  An it might get incorporated into a future plan for our own garden, to complement the armillary sphere we got a few years back.

Finally, it was the Productive Collection.

traditional Maori productive garden: Te Parapara Garden
The collection included a Herb Garden, Kitchen Garden, and Sustainable Backyard, all interesting ideas, but probably better viewed in the summer, when there is more growing.

Then after dinner, the sky was dark, and clear again, so I went out to gawp at the alien stars. And tonight, it was even darker than yesterday, and I spotted both the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds!  Perfect.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

falling, stars

Today was quite relaxed, staying with friends.  In the morning I looked round their smallholding, with its bees, chickens, ducks, and cows.  In the afternoon we took a short trip out to Bridal Veil Falls.

We walked down a staircase by the 55m drop, stopping half way to take a panorama view:

Bridal Veil Falls, from half way down: panorama view
Then we went on down to the bottom.

Bridal Veil Falls creating rainbows
The noise was tremendous:

Yes, another portrait mode video, but it’s a portrait mode waterfall!

Then we had to walk back up the 55m of staircase…

After that, we drove up to Raglan, to wait and watch the sunset, while drinking hot chocolate.

sunset at Raglan
The reason for this wait, apart from good hot chocolate, was that I had yet to see the southern night sky, due to clouds.  Even my earlier sighting of the full inverted moon had been after dawn.  But tonight was forecast clear, so we waited for sunset, then post twilight, and drove to an unlit place.

The sky!  Full of stars!  Alien stars!!  It was a most peculiar experience, seeing a sky full of completely unfamiliar star patterns.  Oh yes, I identified the Southern Cross, but wasn’t the same seeing it for real as seeing a picture.  For one thing, it’s tiny!

The Milky Way towards the galactic centre is splendid: broad and structured.  I stayed looking up and around for quite a while.

a short round trip of about 140 km

Friday, 11 September 2015

inside holes in the ground

Today was the Waitomo caves.  I booked the “triple cave combo”, and drove along to the first one, the Ruakuri Cave, to join the 9am tour party.  The rain was hammering down outside, but inside it was (mostly!) dry, cold, and quiet.  We had an excellent guide, who knew the history of the cave system, and also had been involved in digging out mud in order to open it up to tourists.

The tour lasted nearly 2 hours, with many wondrous sights.  To get in, we descended a deep shaft using a large spiral ramp.

I didn’t manage a good photo of the entry ramp, so I got a postcard
The sights started almost immediately, with wonderful stalactites (growing down) and stalagmites (growing up).  We learned the water deposits new material at about a cubic centimetre a century.

Stalactites, up close
amazing coral-like structure
sheets of rock

atmospheric lighting
so many stalactites
caves within caves
a large cavern (note the handrail at the bottom, for scale)
other people enjoying the caves in their own way
a giant funnel
After walking round in dazed wonder, we re-emerged blinking into daylight.  The rain had just about stopped, and it was a short drive up to the next site: the Aranui Cave.  This was a shorter tour, just under an hour, but no less spectacular.

small stalactites and stalagmites, some connected
A ceiling full of spikes.  Some are broken.  This cave has been open longer, and in the early days, before it was known how long the stalactites took to grow, tourists were allowed to break pieces off as souvenirs.
over 6 feet high: like a vast leg
a ceiling like ice cream
a vast cavern; see handrail at bottom for scale
a petrified waterfall
I’m running out of things to say other than “wow!”
so fragile to have survived so long in a geologically active region
more petrified falling water
the huge cavern on the way back: see heads at bottom for scale!

this is what makes the stone features -- slowly

When we left this cave, not only had the rain stopped completely, but the sun had come out, and it was a beautiful day.  I had no specific time on my ticket for the third cave trip, so I decided to do the short Ruakuri bush walk, which my host at last night’s B&B had told me was the “best bush walk in New Zealand”.  It goes along a river which itself goes through a natural tunnel (the path goes over the top though).

The sign suggested it was a 30 minute tramp.  I took an hour.  (That sounds better than “it took me an hour”.)

a natural tunnel
the path goes through a twisty tunnel of its own
beautiful mossy trees
a view from inside the river tunnel (view accessed down a dark unlit staircase...)
another tunnel along the path: at least with this one, I could see the other end!
a view down to the river
the other end of the natural tunnel
Although I have no sense of direction, I did get a bit confused along this path as the river seemed to switch direction.  Then I saw a map: the river performs a 180° turn in the tunnel.

On the walk I passed two other people, until I got close to the end, when I passed a noisy crowd of about 10 teenagers on a tramp.  Like with my Kauri forest visit, the solitude was part of the experience.  I don’t know if it is the best bush walk in New Zealand; however, it is an excellent bush walk.

Next, back down the road to the Waitomo glowworm cave.  We weren’t allowed to photograph in this one, as there were a lot of parties milling about, and it gets very dark.  There was a short walk through a big cavern with lots of stalactites: very impressive, then, once our eyes had adjusted, onto a boat to see the glowworms.  Um, wow!  There is a big cave system with a lake that the boat moves slowly and silently down, and a relatively low roof, utterly smothered in glowworms.  When the boat is still, it looks like an exceptionally starry night (except that the points of light are too evenly spaced for stars).  When the boat moves, the shape of the roof becomes apparent.  I’m running out of superlatives, but, amazing!

Official photo of the glowworm caves

Once I had done with Waitomo, I headed off to the Otorohanga Kiwi House, to see some more kiwis.  This site again had a night enclosure, with four kiwis in separate pens.  The largest kiwi, a mature female, was very active, strutting around her enclosure, probing the ground for food.  Then it was feeding time.  The keeper entered her pen with the food, and the kiwi went bonkers, running around, really fast, and kicking the keeper, really hard.  The keeper told us after that she had been hospitalised twice over the years, once from a deep peck, and once when a kick hit her knee (rather than her tough boots).  So much for fragile sweet little birds!

three stuffed kiwis on display; the live kiwis are in a much darker environment
There was a lot more to see, but I had had my fill for the day, and finished off with a short drive to Tamahere, where the friends I’m staying with over the weekend live.

from Waitomo, via caves, to Tamahere, ~ 90km