Friday, November 20, 2015

Crossing the Bosphorus

In The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, teenaged Ed Brubeck explains to his friend Holly Sykes about Interrail:
A train pass. You pay a hundred and thirty quid and then you can travel all over Europe, for a month, for free. Second-class, but still. From the tip of Portugal to the top of Norway. Eastern-bloc countries too, Yugoslavia and places. The Berlin Wall. Istanbul. In Istanbul, there's this bridge, right. One side's in Europe and the other's in Asia. I’m going to walk across it.
Like Ed, my friend Shekhar and I once hit upon the idea of crossing the Bosphorus on foot.

Accordingly we travelled to Istanbul (by air, not Interrail), and one afternoon we found ourselves on the Asian coast of the Bosphorus, not far from the bridge. A couple of times we asked people for directions, and they all suggested we take a taksi, presumably because it was a long way. Of course our whole idea was to walk from Asia to Europe, not take a taxi, but we were nevertheless touched by their solicitude.

The last group of people we asked for directions did not speak English, but were especially vehement in recommending a taxi. When we insisted that we wanted to walk, they pointed to a nearby police car, then mimed handcuffs. It was thus that we learnt that one does not simply walk across the Bosphorus: the bridge has apparently been closed to pedestrians since the late 1970s.

Ed Brubeck made the same discovery. A few chapters later, we read a postcard from Ed to Holly:
Today I crossed the Bosphorus Bridge! You're not allowed to walk across it so I hopped between continents on a bus with schoolkids and grannies. Now I can say I've been to Asia.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Spider Parable

Tintin readers may be familiar with Araneus diadematus: it was the spider which sat on Professor Phostle's telescope, leading him to think there was an enormous spider travelling through space.

This line made an impression on me when I read it as a kid, so although Araneus diadematus is not found in India, when I saw spiders in our house, I would often mutter to myself, "It's an Araneus diadematus! An enormous Araneus diadematus!"

Now that I am in Cambridgeshire, a beautiful specimen lives in our back garden.

She likes to spin her web across the garden gate, which unfortunately means that each time I take out my bicycle, I have no option but to tear the web down. For over a month now, I have been – reluctantly – destroying her web on an almost daily basis, but the next morning I find it has been rebuilt.

If I were Robert the Bruce, I might have drawn some sort of life lesson from this.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dog Poo Fairy

Anti-dog-poo posters in Histon & Impington range from the cutesy to the downright draconian.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Awesome Macaques

Anasua showed me this news story about a 10-year-old who got lost in the woods while camping, and was only found after a nearly 29-hour search. The report says:
When asked what it was like to stay on the mountain overnight by himself, he replied: "It was awesome."
I like to think he used awesome not in the colloquial sense of "extremely good", but in the original sense of "extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe".

Speaking of awesome (extremely good) things, here is a video of Yakushima macaques we saw in the forests of Yakushima, Japan.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Astronomical Inaccuracy

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I was in London yesterday on some work, and I saw this poster on a tube station wall.

I was idly scrutinising the night sky in the poster, trying to see if I could recognise any constellations, when I noticed a curious thing. Not only is the depiction of the sky inaccurate (which alone would be bad enough, this being an advert for an observatory of all things!), it actually repeats horizontally.

You can see this clearly in the image below, where I have circled three of the asterisms* for easy identification (you have to make some allowances for the distortion caused by the camera lens and the curvature of the wall).

I think this is rather lazy design; contrast it with Randall Munroe's obsessive attention to astronomical detail.

Happy equinox, everyone!

*An asterism is a pattern of stars smaller than a constellation, like the Big Dipper which is part of the constellation Ursa Major. It is also the name for one of my favourite typographical symbols: . You may have known these facts already; I basically inserted the footnote because the temptation to put an asterisk next to asterisms was irresistible.