The Smile and Compliment Club


Assembly Nurture.003

Assembly Nurture.001As the students walked in to our first assembly of the new term, the song All the Good by Jana Stansfield was playing. On the screen were the lyrics:

“I cannot do all the good that the world needs but the world needs all the good that I can do”

I asked them all to turn to the person on their left and give them a smile – and – a genuine compliment, no matter who they were, if they were a friend, and associate, a teacher, whoever.

Assembly Nurture.002A buzz went around the room and a fair few laughs. I asked them how they felt about it. The unanimous opinion was that it felt good, but a little forced, a little embarrassing.
I pointed out how easy it is to be sarcastic, to say cruel or critical things and how alien it is for so many of us to simply say something nice.
So with that in mind we decide to set up our first experiment and join The Smile and Compliment Club.
The idea was simple. I placed a box in the dining room along with a stash of blank compliment slips. For a week, everyone had the opportunity to write someone a compliment anonymously and place it in the box.
There was a lot of activity around the box at the start of the week, which tailed off towards the end. Then at the weekend, I opened up the box and here are the results:
There were over 100 compliments posted. Eleven were too bizarre or unreadable (there were no rude ones though) so were removed.
the box

The Compliment Box and a slip.

sorting

Sorting the slips into tutor groups

Year 11 was by far the most complimented group, year 10 in second place. The younger ones in year 7 and 8 received the smallest number of compliments. Interestingly enough there were only four compliments for teachers

The slips were sorted into tutor groups and discreetly given out in tutor time. On the following Monday I reported back to everyone with the results and a conclusion.
Everyone had enjoyed the experiment, both sending and receiving anonymous nice things. But – it highlighted another side and I asked our students to think about who they chose to compliment. Some popular students received quite a few but in some cases, those who would have benefited most from some kind words, did not receive many, or any.
If we were a gardener, would you constantly water and fertilise the strongest and healthiest plants in the garden? Or would you nurture those that need it more, that need it most?
Leadership is about finding the lowest amongst us and lifting them up until they are above us.
Hopefully this got everyone thinking about the idea of nurturing in a positive but soul-searching way, without patting ourselves on the back too much for being perfect and instead to to look carefully at what we can all do to improve and become for nurturing.
The theme of all this was part of my act in my stand up comedy days. Here’s a clip from back then:

 

Next week will be time for the 2nd experiment…

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The (8-bit) Adventure Game: part 1


I’m starting a Computer Coding Club at my school this term. It’s called The Adventure Game. This is the story of why and how. I’ll post later to let you know how it’s going…

commodore VIC 20 Apple computer

Me outside the Apple Store in Newcastle this year, organising a VIC20 ‘flash mob’… of one…

It all began on Christmas Day 1982 when I was lucky enough to find this box and its exciting contents under the Christmas tree. In case you don’t recognise it, it’s one of the the first ever home colour computers, the first to sell over a million units (it ended up selling over 5 million) and was replaced by the very similar commodore 64 (which is still the biggest selling computer ever with estimates of over 20 million sold between 1982 and 1994 and becoming available to but again soon, watch this space).

commodore VIC20 box

But that’s all irrelevant for the moment. The point is it was a programmable computer. You type things in and it does things. You can make your own games and figure out how computers work. And that’s exactly what I did for for four years.

Then, like everyone else I moved onto a more sophisticated IMG_3690computer, in my case an Atari ST, at Christmas 1986. I then did what almost everyone else did with their computers as they became more and more powerful: I stopped programming and started using them as multimedia controllers: making music, artwork, desktop publishing, then managing photography, music libraries, video, animation and so on (getting my first Apple Macintosh in 1995). My much loved VIC20 went back in its box and into the loft.
But when I started teaching, it came back down. I set it up and took a photo of it (that was turned into a Top Trumps card by the makers of The Commodore Story see above). I set it up in my lab and left it on the side with this poster next to it, as teaching took over my life (as any new teacher will tell you).

commodore VIC20 A4 posterThe more I got into teaching and found out what kids of today could do, and not do, and saw the skills and ideas they had, and didn’t have, I came too a conclusion that many of the opportunities for learning that I got from my VIC20 are missing from so many of my students:

• they lack patience
• they lack resilience to overcome failure
• they lack strategies to process ideas logically
• they lack outlets to develop their imagination and creativity
• they struggle to organise thoughts
and
• they use technology but don’t understand it.

 

This advert for the commodore VIC20 from 1981 sums it all up: being able to use technology and play games is not a skill that will set you apart from anyone else. If you only use technology to surf the internet, use office productivity tools like Word, Powerpoint and Excel, great, but you’re a user, you’re an administrative clerk. If you only play games, great fun, but you’re living within the bounds of someone else’s imagination.

ian-mcnaught-davis.png

Hero: Ian McNaught Davis

The next piece of the puzzle came from the BBC’s Computer Literacy Project Archive (visit it here) and I started watching all the BBC’s excellent TV programmes from the 1980s hosted by the genius of computer expert Ian McNaught Davis and journalist expert Chris Serle. The way they introduced computers to a nation who knew nothing about computers was brilliant and I felt a similar approach could be used for a generation who used computers but knew nothing about computers.

If that wasn’t exciting enough, re-watching the excellent BBC docudrama ‘Micromen‘ about the beginning of the first computer revolution of the 1980s and the clash between Acorn and Sinclair made we want to get involved in something even more.

Computer programming (or ‘coding’ as it’s now known) isn’t taught very consistently in today’s schools. In the UK, it is now part of the National Curriculum, but there aren’t enough qualified teachers out there to deliver it and schools are left to their own devices on how to tackle it. The result is that it’s tagged onto ICT lessons, usually using a visual high level tool like Scratch, ran in an IT computer room on PCs running Windows.

Why I think this isn’t a good idea is because using a modern powerful multimedia PC to learn to programme is a little like using a Rugby field to play tiddlywinks in. Computer programs today are very sophisticated and have had in most cases thousands of experts working on them for many years. To use a modern powerful PC to play around with simple programming feels like a waste of time. It’s like using the Large Hadron Collider to understand simple electric circuits: the tool is just too sophisticated.

VIC20 circuits.jpgUsing a self-contained microcomputer to do the task is not only more appropriate, it’s more fun. And why not simplify things down a bit? It’s what we do in all the other sciences. In Physics, Chemistry and Biology, we teach smaller systems and model attributes of larger more complex systems. We use little motors and bulbs, make batteries from lemons, copper and zinc and make models of DNA from sweets and straws. We can’t investigate black holes or do neurosurgery in a school lab and no one would even question that we don’t. So why not use a similar approach and use the appropriate tool to teach computing?

IMG_3033

My own computer notebook from my own experiments when I was 12.

I played with electronics as a child. When I show components to many kids today, they’ve never even seen them before. They just don’t take things apart. They’d certainly not take their MacBook or iPhone apart, and even if they did, the miniaturisation is such that you’d learn very little. Understanding how an 8-bit microcomputer works is so interesting as you can get right down there to the actual 6502 chip, send it commands and see the result straight away. Learning to programme on a modern PC feels like theoretical gardening – you just don’t feel you’re getting your hands dirty. There’s so much learning that can be done on a self contained micro.

So I had decided. Somehow I’d teach what I knew about programming and make it fun. But which computers to use? The perfect tool was and is, the Acorn BBC B microcomputer. That’s what it was designed for. (You HAVE to see Micromen!). I managed to get hold of three of them, they’ve still retained their value and as such are comparatively expensive. Plus, when they go wrong, I don’t know how to fix them (as I do the VIC20).

Raspberry-Pi-3-Ports-1-1833x1080The perfect tool would be the Raspberry pi. At £32 you can’t go wrong, except that is for the actual micro, you still need a keyboard, case, SD card, screen, mouse and a load of cables: not so good for setting up in a classroom – easily messy, prone to breakages and things going missing.

IMG_4114

The brilliant FUZE

I briefly toyed with the idea of setting up my own computer company, making a Raspberry pi in a case like the BBC B or VIC20. How cool would that be! But I haven’t got the funds, connections or time to make that work quick enough. But then to my delight I found that someone else has already done it: FUZE.

They are doing exactly what I wanted too do: put a Raspberry pi in a durable (metal) case with a keyboard, all the ports (including a very useful breadboard for attaching external electronic equipment) plus a new version of BASIC, the computer language I learnt on.

IMG_3822When you add up what you get with a FUZE and add a screen, it comes to a cheaper price than what you’d spend if you bought a Raspberry pi and all the bits separately. The Raspberry pi is built with the Acorn ARM chip (and also in most mobile phones) as designed by Acorn originally for the BBC B. Things have indeed come full circle. I now have three FUZEs so far.

Commodore VIC20

My commodore VIC20s set up in my Physics lab to promote the idea of the club.

But what I know best is still the commodore VIC20 and the BASIC language (which was originally written by a certain Bill Gates. It stands for Beginners All Symbolic Instruction Code). I bought some more VICs from eBay, got some old TVs from local guys around Robin Hood’s Bay where I am, and decided that I’d start off where I first began: typing in BASIC. Interestingly enough, I can get the FUZE to emulate a VIC20 (or a commodore 64 or a BBC B or run the latest RISC based ARM OS).

So the stage is set. Next Wednesday we begin properly (after a few teasers, assemblies and a look at the equipment last term).

But what is our project? We can’t just mess around playing games, there has to be a goal. This is where The Adventure Game title comes in.

Scott Adams

Scott Adams then, and today.

In the late seventies, a new type of computer game was pioneered by a man called Scott Adams. He developed a range of text adventures (initially for the VIC20) and later added graphics and the technology evolved into the games of today. Those original games are effectively the origin of what we now would call  Artificial Intelligence, the ability for a computer algorithm to anticipate an outcome from an input and its internally stored data. Those early games were 33313-1actually the first use of Databases. The goal of my club has become for the students to learn enough about computer coding to be able to create such a database, to create their own original text adventure game and by doing so understand a computer language, the microchip, how artificial intelligence starts out and hopefully have a lot of satisfaction and fun along the way, just as I did when I was 11…

To do this we’re going to use the book by Usborne ‘Write Your Own Adventure Games’. All Usborne’s excellent books are available to download for free.

Using BASIC on the VIC20 and on the FUZE is a great point to start as long as we employ structured programming skills along the way. Then, the students will be able to translate their learning into other languages such as Python, Java or C++ just as those who now run the technology giant companies do, many of whom began on commodore machines. The adventure begins…

adventure game logo

Let me know what you think in comments below was well as any memories you have of programming your 8-bit micro.

IMG_3029

My six VIC20s set up in my lab last term to generate interest in the idea of a club.

Into the Vortex


1 corridor before smallThe corridor outside my school lab was dull. Oh so dull. I asked the students to be honest:  if you didn’t know any better, where did you think this corridor was from? The most common answer was ‘in a disused wing of a mental asylum‘. So something needed to be done.

Do you think they were right?

The opportunity came when we decided to have an extra curricular activities week at the end of the summer term. We brainstormed loads of ideas of ‘skills’ that we could teach the students that weren’t normally part of KS3-4. The result was a programme of events called ‘Reality Bites‘.

The whole school was split up into random teams of 10 who rotated around the various workshops which lasted 90 mins.

What I want to do was paint the corridor – but simply giving the kids a brush and some paint would too much a case of free labour and not a direct learning experience. So instead I came up with a plan to have a session that taught them a brief History of Art with a focus on the use of perspective. We then looked at optical illusions that played with our perception. Then I showed them how I’d created the plan to turn the corridor into a forced perspective tunnel.

2 corridor drawing small

Obviously I’d done a lot of pre-preparation. I’d done a scale drawing of the entire corridor and marked out a 50cm squared grid over the walls and ceiling. I’d then mapped the spiral design over the corridor photo and distorted it in Photoshop over the scale drawing. Some talented 6th formers helped me draw out the curves (this was much harder than it looked!).

Then, with two colours of paint decided, the first group were taught bush and roller techniques. As each new group arrived, different approaches to the painting had to be taken (and some sections had to be re-done!).

But every student had a go and now all feel part and proud of the finished job (which they all have to go down to Physics and Chemistry!).

10 final small

The finished corridor

(What they don’t know is that it took me ages and ages to finish off, especially the ceiling, during the summer holidays!). See below for what the approach to my Physics lab door looks like now…

If you’re passing, pop in and see us at Fyling Hall School.

Words from the Woods


I’d long had the goal of inspiring children to write more and better stories and collect them into an anthology and finally this year I achieved that goal.

The book is called Words from the Woods (my 7 year old daughter came up with the title from the fact that our school bus nestled on the edge of the woods.)

woods3D

Initially it had the double goal of using stories with some as a tool to better engage students in science, by encouraging them to create a narrative around a scientific phenomenon an with others, to draw out the creativity of those already proficient in science but less likely to develop their imaginations. Surprisingly, most of the schools I had worked with had little interest in the idea. It was only when I came to Fyling Hall in January 2016 that I could set up an after-school club to develop these ideas and The Intergalactic Writers’ Guild was born.

Guild-logo

I say ‘guild’ and not ‘club’ as just like the trade guilds of old, the idea of the meetings was to develop, home and improve our craft of storytelling. We met for an hour every week and played creativity games designed to encourage and develop different aspects of story creation and writing: imagination, description, characters, locations, voice, atmosphere, style and purpose. Two of these exercises resulted in short pieces that are so interesting, I’ve included them as works in their own right at the back of the book.

The themes we explored centred around two interesting techniques that you’ll see reflected in most of the stories. The first and most powerful starting idea for a creative expression was the speculative fiction idea of ‘what if?’ – asking a question or changing one aspect of reality and dealing with the consequences which unfold as a story. 

The other key theme was ‘the ghost story’ which was especially exhilarating during dark autumn and winter evenings (and sometimes telling stories by candlelight) and it is this genre more than any other threw up so many interesting ideas that you’ll find many of the stories herein fall into that category.

Not all contributions contained herein have come via the Guild. A batch of stories were written as part of English lessons for years 7, 8 and 9. Some being given themes such as ‘the cold’ or ‘the other side’. I also gave two special sessions on ‘Writing the Ghost Story’ and on ‘Speculative Fiction’ for year 7 which have led to some fascinating stories that I was able to harvest for the anthology.

Overall we have 52 contributors, including those that have submitted artwork from their GCSE portfolios (not linked to any of the stories) to break up the pages between stories. Special thanks goes to Hee Joo Jin who painted the original artwork for our cover and Head of English Alex Woodhead who proofread our grammar and punctuation.

Layout 1

A sample page from the book.

The challenges that face young authors are the same that face any young person in any 21st century endeavour and fall into these four categories, which we aimed to deal with one by one in the Guild:

1. How to have an idea (creativity).

2. How to turn an idea into an interesting narrative (communication skills).

3. How to keep going (perseverance)

4. How to have a great ending (find purpose and meaning).

These skills creativity, communication, perseverance and finding a purpose are critical for a rounded education and fulfilling life and yet they don’t always fall within the traditional curriculum in many schools. For that reason I believe the work we have done here is of the highest value and has, I hope, enriched the experience of those that have participated in the book. On behalf of all our writers, artists and myself, we now hope that it will in some small way entertain, inform and educate you too, do take a look on Amazon.

I’m preparing a tool kit for teachers on how the Guild and the book were put together with such a good outcome. Drop me a line on twitter or here @aydinstone if you want to know more. I’ll post the resources on my blog here when it’s ready.

Women in Physics poster pack


UPDATE! New version uploaded to include Nobel Prize winning Donna Strickland.

Getting girls interested in Physics is a tough one. There are role models out there but so many are still unknown, missing from history in the stories we tell as well as the textbooks.

So I created these A5 cards to redress the balance and normalise the presence of women in Physics.

I’m happy to share this and for you to download the PDF  Women-Physicists-v3 (if you forward it on, just give me credit somewhere!).

I took the photos from the internet so I can’t profit from it so happy for it to go far and wide.

There are two up on each A4 so just print each page in colour and cut out to make your display.

The idea was to make these scientists look real, normal, varied and relevant, on first name terms.

I chose the best photos I could find close to the age where they did their best work. In two cases I used actors portraying the person; anything to bring these women to life and for our girls to see themselves in them.

Let me know if you get them up somewhere and if anyone comments on it!

(Did you spot the title is in the style of the new Doctor Who logo – played by Jodie Whitaker on 7th October this year…)

Women-Physicists-v3Download here: Women-Physicists-v3

The door to the prep room from my lab.

On the Shores of Lake Onyx


My new collection of 18 science fiction and ghost stories is now available.

Kindle: https://goo.gl/Bne81M Paperback: https://goo.gl/c9hjSL

On the Shores of Lake Onyx

Cover for On the Shores of Lake Onyx by Ayd Instone

My goal with this second collection is to invite the reader to step right out on the precipice and invoke within them a sense of apeirophobia, that is ‘a fear of infinity’, what Otto described in Latin as mysterium tremendum, a terrible dread of some wholly overwhelming, almost cyclopean power.

I’ve called it Luminous Awe, a subset of Horror, to be less about simply fear of death or pain and more about fear of fear itself, of the unknown and unknowable: a fear for your soul (even if you don’t know what that is). A good ghost story should make us all shudder. A belief in ghosts is not required, a belief in possibilities is. When horror meets science fiction we have the best of both breeds: a realistic, plausible scenario and chain of events along with a  compelling sense of dread. H.P. Lovecraft described his writing process as first working out what emotion he wanted to convey, then he would work out how it was to be conveyed, by what situations, plot and characters, and then by what order would he reveal those ingredients to construct the story (which is exactly that – the manner and order the plot is revealed to the reader). Probably five of the stories in my first book could be described as ‘ghost stories’ and possibly ten you could call ‘science fiction’. It’s flipped the other way this time. Probably around ten in this collection may be ghost stories, the rest science fiction.

The Curse of Baphomet by Ayd Instone

The Curse of Baphomet by Ayd Instone

I’ve attempted to be as varied and original as possible in addition to getting as many facts correct as I can. In Secret of the Circle the facts are closer to the truth than you think, many of the elements featured did exist. Even the mythical elixir of life, ‘vril’ found its way into the drink Bovril, as in bovine elixir. The myths detailed in The Curse of Baphomet are as accurate as I could make them, drawn from various myths and legends. The Ghost of Tracey Pemberton, the last to be written for this collection, may or may not even be a ghost story, you can decide.

Part of the motivation to write ghost stories may come from the dissatisfaction I have with the supernatural, that I have researched it enough to see all examples of it vanish. This angle is explored in the story here called simply Ghosts. The challenge has been to create a new plausibility to the ghost or an invocation of the uncanny that is as convincing as it is unnerving. Simply using the cliches or stereotypical motifs of ghosts and their standard explanations is not interesting to me. Magic Mirror is a pure tale unashamedly in the style of M.R. James whereas The Keeper at Hobs’ Point attempts to subvert the form by giving a reason, (an explanation being the tenant of science fiction), if not a fantastical reason, to the spooky goings on.

Readers of my first collection will recall the main character of Black Light. She proved popular with enough people to warrant a return in both Two Heads and The Voice in the Dark where her position as the rational scientist is valuable in investigating the strange phenomenon. She even gets a surname in these new stories.

The Keeper of Hobs' Point

The Keeper of Hobs’ Point by Ayd Instone

In popular music they call it ‘the difficult second album’ – you’ve used up all your best songs on your debut which effectually you’ve been working on all your life up to that point and then… a second instalment is needed in hardly any time at all. The cupboard is bare of ideas, the barrel has been scrapped. Where is the new material going to come from? It’s a real test of your creativity and staying power. Is it the same with a short story collection? Ironically I have enough songs written for my first fifty albums, but short stories – I’d put the latest and best plus some scrapped from long past, reaching back to my youth in that first volume, A Voice in the Light. There were all there, those eighteen tales, there were no more. The stories that didn’t make that first collection didn’t make it for a reason so they were out. So all these stories are brand new? Not quite. On exploring the attic looking for my old school exercise books, I came across a couple of sheets of handwritten file paper with a story I’d forgotten all about that a twenty year old me had written (The Moth) and another that I’d written as a screenplay with the intention of filming as a short film (The Fly), originally entitled A Speck of Dust. So there are those two older stories presented here, but all the rest are new since the first collection. That means I have entered into that strange experience of the state of ‘not having an idea’ and then entering into ‘having an idea’ sixteen times within these pages. I’d be sitting somewhere wishing I had an idea for a story. Then, sometime soon afterwards I’d have that idea. Where did it come from? When I’ve written a story there’s a brief glow of excitement and pride, like waking up on Christmas morning and opening a gift of an exquisite multifaceted crystal and I stare into its brilliance for hours. Then, after a day or so, it loses its lustre and becomes dull. I feel low and worthless, dejected and bored. The only cure is to write another. Then the hunt is on again, the excitement of the chase resumes, and the cycle continues.

The Shadow People by Ayd Instone

The Shadow People by Ayd Instone

I remember seeing an interview with Alan Bennett just prior to the broadcast of his second series of Talking Heads monologues in the late 1980s. “They’re sadder than the first lot,” he said. I feel  similarly about this collection in that it’s darker than the first one. But I like them more. I think they’re better. Without darkness, you can’t appreciate the light, so we need this dark to contrast this ‘luminous’ I’ve attempted to invoke.

You can read the stories on Kindle here: https://goo.gl/Bne81M
And get the paperback: https://goo.gl/c9hjSL

Spock


Leonard Nimoy Mr Spock

Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock

It’s an amazing epitaph. An individual, who, through something as simple as acting (dressing up and playing make-believe) inspired so many in such a positive way and in a way that will stand the test of time and be remembered as long as the human race is a space-faring species.

 
NASA’s front page is dedicated to him today as he and his fellow Star Trek colleagues are woven into the purpose and passion of why we have space programmes and why we went to the moon and beyond and the reason we have the spin off technology we use today without thinking. Spock is part of that tapestry.
 
It’s an amazing epitaph that a character that was supposedly devoid of emotion actually displayed such compassion. As Kirk says in the movie, “he was the most… human”.
 
And that is the purpose of science fiction, to turn the mirror back on ourselves and take a long cold look at who we are and think about what we could become. In that, Nimoy was not an actor, but a mirror and we are better off because of what he reflected back to us.
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”
– Leonard Nimoy 1931 – 2015
 

Invented 100 years ago in 1914


1914. A year that resonates across time as almost a living memory, irrespective of the fact that none of us were there. And yet through our families* and our cultures (especially in Europe) we were there.

The War would, by necessity, be the catalyst for a massive surge in invention and innovation. But 1914 offered surprisingly few startling discoveries and inventions. It was a year of quality not quantity. So here are seven of the years most interesting inventions and firsts, the spectre of War of course still dominates.

To begin with, let’s start with the humble Traffic Cone, which was invented in 1914 by Charles P. Rudabaker, made from concrete, for use on the streets of New York. It wasn’t until 1961 that the stackable PVC cones were created (in the UK by David Morgan in Oxford.)

Charlie Chaplin made his film début in February the comedy short Making a Living.

The Panama Canal, the 48 mile ship canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean officially opened on August 15, 1914. It had taken 33 years and cost, in today’s money, nearly $9 billion, shifting 204,900,000 m3  (Over 25 times more earth than in the Channel Tunnel) and had a loss of life of over 5000 people (mainly due to disease).

Fighter Plane

The Vickers FB5 Gunbus

American Frank Shuman invented a process for making two types of Safety Glass: laminated (where two layers of glass are separated by a plastic coating) and wire mesh glass (where a mesh of wire is embedded in the glass). Safety glass was not immediately adopted by car manufacturers, but laminated glass was used in the eyepieces of gas masks during World War I from 1915.

The first Fighter Plane, described as a two-seater aircraft with sufficient lift to carry a machine gun and its operator as well as the pilot (as opposed to an aircraft where the pilot fired a revolver at his enemy), first flew in 1914. The first fighter was the British biplane Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus of 1914. It first flew on 17 July 1914 and was powered by a single 100 hp (75 kW) Gnome Monosoupape nine-cylinder rotary engine driving a two-bladed propeller, capable of 100 mph. It was built with a wooden frame, covered with fabric. A total of 224 were produced, 119 in Britain by Vickers, 99 in France and six in Denmark.

blood transfusion

The first safe, successful blood transfusion

On June 28 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria triggered the war that would become the First World War. The term was first used in September 1914 by the German philosopher Ernst Haeckel, who claimed that “there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ … will become the first world war in the full sense of the word.” More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised. 17 million were killed and 20 million were wounded. Dubbed as ‘The war to end all wars’ it became instead the first modern war and led to the invention of almost all of the accruements of death on a massive scale as well as the technology to defend against them.

But the most important invention of the year, that went almost uncelebrated at the time, must be responsible responsible for saving the lives of many millions of people. After the invention of the blood anticoagulant a few years earlier, the first non-direct Blood Transfusion was performed on March 27, 1914 by the Belgian doctor Albert Hustin.

* My Granddad was 18 when he went off to fight at the start of the war.

 

Other articles of interest:

Invented 50 years ago in 1963

Invented 100 years ago in 1913

Invented 100 years ago in 1912

 

To listen my radio show show iTunes here. If you enjoy it, please do give us a rating.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

How to spot the real Father Christmas


Father Christmas original historicalOther children had other questions: how does he get around everyone in just one night? how can he carry all those presents? Where does he live (is it the North Pole)? The question I posed as a six year old was a simple one and was perhaps more pertinent: how could he get into our house when we didn’t have a chimney? The answer provided by my Dad was just as simple: he has a magic key. I was satisfied.

But more interestingly than that, I remain satisfied. That answer is more profound that at first glance. Firstly it completely and utterly answers the question. Secondly, although it appears to raise further questions (how does the key work? where did he get it? does it work for all houses?) it renders those questions redundant because their answers are located in the first answer: it is magic. The nature of magic is that it is magic and is therefore indivisible. It is a closed loop that logic cannot break into.

But here’s another question. Pondered by many, but whispered oh so quietly, as perhaps the undesired answer is already known. But let’s ask it openly and attempt to answer it.

Is Father Christmas real?

Real, unreal; these are modern words that polarise a greater truth that exists somewhere in between. But even truth is contextual. In our ever increasing literal world where things must be concrete, they must be pinpointed and we must be certain, do we throw out a closer more relevant truth of unknowing; they grey area of multiple truths all being correct at once? Like Heisenberg, who showed we can’t know both position and momentum, the more we are certain of one, the more the other slips away, so is it with myth.

Myth does not mean ‘untrue’ as dull literalist dogmatics would have you believe. It means ‘very true’ as if there is another dimension to truth, at right angles to all the facts, that makes a myth more true than fact.

In mathematics we use the square root of minus one, called the number i, as the imaginary impossible number. It can’t exist unless you imagine it. (Try it on any literal dogmatic unimaginative calculator if you need proof). And yet, if we include this imaginary number in various equations, it can help solve them. You can’t solve certain quantum mechanics problems without it. These problems are real world ones too, found in electrical engineering and computing. Without the imaginary number you wouldn’t be reading this on a computer.

So is the number i real or unreal? Real or unreal is the wrong question as i exists, even if it is imaginary and it has a real impact on the world. So even though it’s a dumb question, we have to say i is real.

So let’s return to the original question. Is Father Christmas real or unreal? Bear in mind that he is of similar substance to i. He has the same characteristics: he has a real impact on the world; he explains certain phenomena; he is needed to complete certain functions; he is the square root of minus one.

He is by the literal terminology, real.

So where can we find him?

Father Christmas original historicalAny old fat man in a red suit and fake beard is unlikely to be the real thing. A simple test that drawn upon history is this: is he wearing a hooded cloak? If not, and bears a bobble cap instead, he’s a Coke drinking imposter who’s probably in the payola of the neo-capitalist branding conspiracy to brainwash children. It was Haddon Sundblom, who drew the red-suited fat elf for the Coca-Cola company from 1931 to 1964. Sundblom said he was inspired by Swedish tomte, mythical little creatures with red caps and long white beards but his images owe a lot more to Thomas Nast’s 1863 drawing.

The real Father Christmas may not always be dressed in red (sometimes blue, sometimes green) and may have a holly wreath on his head if his hood is not up.

It was the New York Gazette which, in 1773, gave him to joke moniker of St. A Claus (based on the Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’ which became ‘Santa Claus’) a name which even Clement Moore rejected in his 1821 poem, sticking with St. Nicholas, the name of the 3rd century bishop who gave presents to the destitute. It was Moore who popularised reindeer as the preferred mode of transport. Prior to that, Father Christmas would more likely arrive on horseback.

But his origins are more mysterious and ancient. Originally he was the god Saturn, whose festival, Saturania was celebrated on December 23rd in the Greco-Roman world from pre-history to the arrival of Christmas in the fourth century AD. Saturn, now a fallen god, bowed to the greater authority of Jesus and swore to no longer demand child sacrifice. It is an irony that it was originally the children who were gifts for him rather than him bringing gifts to them.

In his new fallen role and new allegiance, Saturn even turned up at the nativity as one of the ‘wise men’ from the East, bearing gifts for the infant Saviour. Thus the pagan festival and the Christian one unite.

So be careful if you stay up late on the night of the 24th, you may just catch a glimpse of an anthropomorphism of one of the few ancient primal forces still left in the world.

Oh, and the answers to those other questions? If you really don’t want to know, look away now.

How can he carry all those presents? He carries only what is needed for each home with each trip.

Where does he live (is it the North Pole)? The North Pole is a literal version of the farthest place we can think of. Nobody ever said what it was the North Pole of…

How does he get around everyone in just one night? He does them all simultaneously. Since the number i can be all it needs to be at once, so can he. It’s also easy that he only needs to be where an imaginator resides and can easily be personified by them, they become him and do his work for him, as him.

Well, you did ask.

More clues here:
http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/xmas/pages/english.htm

and a history here:
http://www.christmasarchives.org/santa.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia

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The wonder of the Short Story


short stories science fiction ghostI’ve always preferred short stories to novels. There are two reasons I think. One is that it’s so exciting to discover the one (or sometimes two) really big ideas that a short story can present that really make you stop and think. The other is that if the story’s boring you can safely skip it and jump onto the next one.

I’ve published my first collection of short stories. My intention is to ask the question, ‘What if?’, to take a situation and give it just one or two big ideas, like an extra twist, at right angles to reality, to make characters twitch and a situation unfold. That, for me, is the essence of science fiction: to make just one or two changes to the universe we know about and see where those changes could lead.

It’s a mixture of science fiction and ghost stories. Much as I love the clichéd paraphernalia of film and television science fiction; the cheeky or dangerous robots, the spaceships, the starships and the bolt cruisers, the bug-eyed monsters and the cyborgs, and as much as I expected myself to, I found I wasn’t really including them in my stories.

It comes in part from the thing that non-science fiction fans hate the most; that the technobabble gets in the way of the story, or is a substitution for it. I know what they mean, and I agree.

Godstow nunneryFor me, in writing these stories, I had the further thought of where my imagination might be sourced. I wanted to make sure my invented worlds were as original and believable as possible and did not want to adopt or ride on the back on any pre-existing science fiction methodology. By that I mean how some authors adopt the short hand or methods of another writer. It’s easy to do, but if I’m going to write about visiting other worlds, I don’t want to rely on hyperdrives or warp drives, teleports or transporters, have evil empires or benevolent federations without good reason, independently arrived at. That’s why most of my stories have to be drawn from something I know something about, which admittedly isn’t that much. Some things are harder to avoid. If you’re writing about robots, you’re going to bump into Asimov who’s already been down that road. If you go to Mars, you’ll probably find Ray Bradbury, and if you start exploring subterranean crypts, H.P. Lovecraft will lock the door behind you.

I first started creating stories in the playground with my friend Barry. Aged eight, we became fascinated by the idea of creating a whole world-view within which to set a franchise of stories (although we’d never use or even know those words), like Flash Gordon, Star Wars and Star Trek. Barry knew about the military, so he added the workings and politics of army know-how. I was interested in spaceship and robot design and we both loved the psychological weirdness of Sapphire and Steel. Together we invented motivated villains and evil races. We concocted a reason how the Earth in the near future could engage in interstellar travel by having a ‘wormhole’ appear in the orbit of Jupiter. (We didn’t call it a wormhole, it was a ‘Time/Space Tunnel or Portal’). The playground stories became comic strips and then written down tales as we became older and the stories more sophisticated. We’d created a structure that, if published today, would seem similar to Star Trek Deep Space Nine, although our vision was created fourteen years earlier.

The WallThe stories I’ve collected in The Voice in the Light are about the thoughts that occupy my conscious and subconscious mind: the nature of dreams, of faith, of history, time, and the nature of light. They’re inspired by the kind of writers I’ve enjoyed, that some might call classic science fiction; Brian Aldiss, John Wyndam, Frank Herbert and Larry Niven, forgotten authors like Paul Capon and more recent deities like Douglas Adams and Philip Pullman.

Some of these stories were written over the last year, some a decade earlier, and a few over twenty-five years ago, although I’m not going to reveal which is which. You can try to guess.

Each story comes with an illustration I’ve done (in pen and ink).

The book is available in paperback and on Kindle at a very reasonably low price.

My only wish is that you enjoy reading the 18 stories as much as I enjoyed writing them, and perhaps one or more of them does make you stop and ponder and think, ‘that’s interesting. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder…’

ink drawingHere’s a description of the kind of stories you’ll find…

• A boy seeks solace from his imaginary friend from another dimension…

• A robotic experiment goes disastrously wrong. But why is a psychic detective called in?

• Imagine being able to create extra time to spend as you wish. What would you do with it?…

• A machine that allows you to ‘see’ into the past…

• In a distant future, our cities are avoided as cursed tombs of a doomed race…

• A student joke with a ouija board unlocks a dark past and a prediction is made as to who will die first…

• A boy enters a secret world to enlist magical creatures to help him do his homework…

Get your copy in paperback or Kindle.

 

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

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