Fly by Wire

No one could accuse me of being fast. I have been in a wheelchair now for 2.5 years and I realised the other day, the wheelchair is my mobility. Yes, I know, earth shattering. Bear with me, what I mean by that is, it’s how I move around. Another earth shattering revelation. Sounds obvious, but here’s a thing, when you are on your feet walking, you just… well walk. If you want to go somewhere you don’t think about it consciously you just do it. In a power wheelchair and I assume a manual, you have to take a separate action to go somewhere. In my case a joystick. So I am sitting in my chair and I want to turn around and fetch something behind me. I have to push the lever right or left and rotate the chair. All this might sound really straightforward and simple. But think for a moment, it’s an extra level of action to achieve a simple result. I want something just out of my reach, I can’t just swivel and get it I must power the chair around to get it. Something is a little too far ahead of me to reach, I have to push the joystick forward to move the chair and therefore me in reach. It was that realisation which hit me the other day. I no longer rely on my body to get me to somewhere, I am relying on a machine. Just a quick aside, I guess as babies we learn to use our bodies as a kind of machine to do what our brain wants. By the time we are an adult it’s automatic. But a wheelchair is never going to be s smooth and intuitive as the human body.

The dawning of that realisation was quite powerful for me and caught me out. I had to stop and process it. Because it means so much more than it sounds. It is about independence, mobility, reliance, technology, artificial movement, disconnection between aim and action, re learning movement and a whole lot more.

These days most aeroplanes are operated by a ‘fly by wire’ system. What that means is that when a pilot pushes a lever or operates the steering yoke, that movement has no direct connection to the thing it will move. Instead it sends a signal to a microprocessor which eventually tells the ailerons, wheels, brakes or whatever what to do. That may not sound important or significant, but think of it this way. When you steer your car, the steering wheel turns a physical ratchet that turns the wheels, yes with power steering you get assistance, but it is still a physical connection. When you operate your car brakes you push onto a pedal that compresses fluid that directly presses onto brake pads, again yes there is assistance built into the system. There may well be high tech cars that are more like aeroplanes. The point I am making is that when you do something which is one step removed from he physical there is a disconnect. You experience what I mean when you operate your computer or smart phone and it doesn’t respond immediately. You know how frustrating that feels. Pressing on a mouse or the screen and nothing happens. Some may argue that an electronic interface is faster and better than a direct input from a driver or pilot. Certainly I can’t see any way a pilot could directly pull a lever and operate the gigantic ailerons on a modern jet. Although whenever I find my computer freezing up I do wonder at the sense of that argument. It does rather put me off the idea of self driving cars. I think I would like to see a PC or smart phone that works 100% of the time before I put my life in the hands of a computer driver. But my point isn’t what is better, just the fact there is a disconnection. We can accept that with machines. But when it is our own body, it’s harder to accept. The distance between action and reaction, aim and result can feel a long way.

I was thinking the other morning just how complex and time consuming it is for me to get up. When you are disabled everything takes so long. That’s because equipment is needed to enhance, enable and complete the things I do. Mobility is really just one small part of that and my realisation the other morning was an eye opener for me. I hope I’ve lifted the lid on it a little for you.

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Capes not capons

I have the answer to all our troubles; capes. Yes capes, forget cooking capons. Get out of your kitchen and into your sewing room. We need capes. Especially shiny, brightly coloured capes. The type that super heroes wear in all the comics and movies. Bear with me, I will explain my logic, because it is all extremely logical, obviously. Am I anything other than logical.

I have had a lot of time to watch movies and I was wondering what to watch next when I decided to work my way through all the super hero movies. Having watched Superman I carried on to the Avengers. Then it hit me; no, not how childish I am. I was watching Vision creating himself a suit; you’ll need to watch it. Oh you have, well you know the bit I mean. Vision is a computer or artificial intelligence that has become a walking, talking super hero. After he makes the suit there is still something missing, yes that’s right, the cloak. He creates a cloak. I realised that Thor and Captain Marvel and Dr Strange all have capes. Other comic book heroes, Superman, Super girl, Batman, Robin, the guy in Shazam, a lot of the characters in Watchmen; you see the principle. Even the ones who don’t have a cape have a pseudo cape. I like to see it as their nod to a cape. Either they have wings or a high collar or big ears or a shield in the case of Captain America. When they have absolutely nothing it’s usually because their ego is too big to fit a cape, as in Iron Man or they are just too destructive and a cape would get ripped, as in the Hulk.

So I think we all agree a cape is a super hero essential and as such the answer the every problem. If you’re not in agreement then just go to the back of the class and sit quietly. We have a problem at the moment during this pandemic, the obvious answer is a cape. If we all had capes then the problem would be sorted. Think about it; don’t throw it out so easily. I am not an idiot, I suppose an idiot would say that, but I have something sensible to say. The reason super heroes wear cloaks are multitudinous. They give balance in flight, they can be used to swish over themselves as cover often turning into a solid bunker, they can cover their mouths when a gas is fired at them, they have inner pockets for your mobile phone and they look very cool.

We need such amazing adaptable capes. We could cover our mouths on public transport, use them as sheilds if people got too close, and carry our spare rubber gloves in the pockets. If they happened to be able to shield us from ray guns, that’s just an added bonus. Plus I am sure we won’t complain if they help us fly. After the lock down ends everyone is going to want to avoid public transport, so personal flight is the obvious answer. Not sure how immigration and customs will cope with hoards of us flying in and out of the UK like swarms of bees but I am looking at capes so that’s not my problem.

You see how useful capes can be. They really are the answer to every problem. OK so perhaps a polyester cape might initially lack some of these capabilities at first. But it will have a pocket for your gloves and look cool. Oh yes and you could hide under it if you felt embarrassed.

I am sure you are all rushing to your PC’s now ordering capes. Or at the very least looking for patterns to make one. Perhaps I should have taken shares in a cape producing company. Capability.uk or Iwanttobeasuperhero.net they will be worth millions by tomorrow.

Do I really need to tell you I was joking. Keep your spirits up during the lockdown. Have a laugh, it’s good for you.

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UK Blessings Video

I wanted to include a link to the UK blessings video in case you hadn’t heard it or wanted an easy link to it. It is an amazing song of blessing sung by many UK churches, listen to it and be blessed:

https://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5U

The Social Distancing Dance

Have you noticed how we have all learned to dance. Well, maybe not me. I can’t even walk. But my wife Mary comes back from her walks with fascinating tales of the new dance that is sweeping the nation and I assume the world. It is all the rage and I bet you are doing it too. Unless you are shielding or unable to walk of course.

The dance goes like this. First you take your partner by the hand and head off down the street. You take a few steps forward and then you see a stranger, then you take a step to the right and walk on through. You take two more steps, then look to the right and you quick step your partner right across the road. Then you promenade and chassis for a few more steps. Then you see another stranger and you dose se doe. You swing your partner to the left and you cross back over. Then you do a twirl and continue forward. You do a backward pivot and you turn around, then you promenade some more and you head on home.

OK so I am being silly. But it is like a well coordinated dance isn’t it? People walking down the street trying to keep a strict social distance by crossing over and weaving around people. Criss crossing the roads. All that’s lacking is the music. I am sure some enterprising person will take a series of shots of people avoiding each other and put it to music. By the way if it makes a fortune can I claim copyright.

I have been thinking as the restrictions ease and our bubbles grow, the dance is going to become bigger. So rather than a maximum of a dancing couple waltzing or quick stepping down the high street. I wonder if we will end up with line dancing or perhaps a giant barn dance. I remember trying one of those in the 1980’s and doing it very badly. I was always heading the wrong way. Just imagine what a mess we could get in when two big groups meet each other and try to smoothly dance by one other. We will have people Stripping the Willow and doing a Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous all over the place. Not to mention the Gay Gordon’s and The Farmer’s Jigs. I wonder if cowboy boots and Stetsons will be added to masks as essential equipment to go out and about.

As for the future of actual dance venues. They could add special dance floors with plastic screens segmenting them. It could be all the rage in dance clubs of the future. Everyone dancing in an individual Perspex bubble. I have seen 1960’s films where they used to dance in cages. This is the natural progression. The band could be behind a screen. Maybe robots could serve the drinks.

Can I please stop anyone who is feeling horrified. I am kidding. When I write blogs like these they are taking the situation and looking at the absurd side of it. They are meant to be a bit of light relief. Do not take me seriously. I feel such comments will fall on deaf ears. I have had so many serious responses to previous humorous blogs. But I can try, please just smile, don’t get offended. We are living in difficult times. Very stressful times and I am just trying to lighten the mood.

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

I have been scanning photos while lying in bed. Mary is sorting through old photo albums and I am digitising them onto my laptop via a portable scanner. It’s a fascinating process, I am time travelling from 1870, no not my childhood, that’s my early adulthood. Now come on really! It’s distant family relations that we have photos of through to our childhood, courtship, marriage and early married life and our children. It is quite a trip through memory lane.

As I lie here in bed looking out at the garden I can see flowers that are already losing their blossom, a tree just gaining leaves and birds that live just a few years. Scanning the photos of long dead relatives has made me contemplative, not maudlin, but thoughtful. Life is so brief, we are born, go to school, get a job, hopefully, maybe get married, sometimes are blessed with children and grandchildren, then we grow old and die. We do so much while alive. Work, build, create, love, laugh, cry, debate, write, sing, paint, teach, encourage, heal, help, and much more. Then there are the negative things people do, fight, steal, destroy and kill among others. It made me think of the lines from Macbeth:

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
…. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Such an image of futility.

I would think Shakespeare had Solomon’s words from the Bible in mind:

In the book of Ecclesiastes 2:11 it says:

“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

This from the wealthy King who had everything his heart desired.

Wow! That all sounds very depressing and before you all rush off in despair I have a ray of hope. No I am not going to start singing “Circle of life,” from The Lion King, because I am not a pantheist. I don’t worship a god of Earth, Wind and Fire. There I go again, you’ll definitely be expecting a song now.

I believe in a very personal God, a real and living God. A God who we can know and experience. Not a god of the forest and fields, but a God who made the forest and fields and everything in the universe. Not a god in my image, but a God in whose image I was made. There is a very big difference. How does that give hope? Because life in all its brevity and seeming meaninglessness, actually has meaning. King Solomon talked about the pointless and meaninglessness of things, of possessions, things. If you know one thing about Kong Solomon, I bet you know he was wealthy. He had riches coming out of his ears, not literally. He had many wives and concubines. Hey, this was the norm at the time, so don’t get on your moralistic high horse about it. The point is, he had sex a plenty. So anyone who thinks sex on its own is the answer to happiness, it’s not. Anyone who thinks money and power alone are the answer, they are not. Obviously you need enough money to meet basic needs, beyond that money does not bring happiness. King Solomon knew that only one thing would bring him ultimate fulfilment and that was knowing God.

We are really lucky today, because unlike King Solomon we live in a time after Jesus came to Earth. Which means we have a really easy way to get to know God. It’s so easy that it seems too easy. Often people add bits on to make it harder. There are many Christians who think that they need to do extra bits to get to know God. They just can’t believe that God would make it so simple.

Here you go are you ready for the what you have to do? Believe in Jesus Christ. Belief and trust in Jesus that’s it, it really is that simple. No rules and regulations, no club to join, no fees to pay, nothing else. I can here you all shouting out, ‘what about the Church?’ You have to join that. No, you don’t, the Church means the gathering of the people of a God and you become part of the Church when you become a Christian. Once you become a Christian you will want to be with other Christians, just because they are family. But the form that takes will vary greatly. You will also notice that the things you used to do before you knew Jesus, not all of them will feel right. Changes you make won’t be because you have to change to be a Christian, but because you want to change now that you are. It’s reverse to your expectations. In fact here is a shocking statement, you could carry on doing everything you did before and also not gather together with other Christians, it won’t stop you being a Christian. But you will find you lack joy and fulfilment. You will feel the lack. You see being a Christian isn’t about what you do, but who you are. Once you get to know Jesus and say yes I believe in you and trust you, you become an adopted child of God. Who you are has changed even if you never act any differently. The reality is that most people can’t help but act differently when they realise the change of who they are. For many they do change, but it can be slow. One thing to be very aware of is that being a Christian doesn’t make us perfect. We still do things wrong. It’s just that God forgives us. I have heard people say they couldn’t go to Church because they aren’t good enough. Well join the club, neither am I. Another common thing said is that all Christians are hypocrites because they are not perfect. But as I said, becoming a Christian changes who you are not what you do. What you do changes slowly over time.

Imagine for a moment that you woke up tomorrow and found out that you could choose to be an adopted child of the Queen, or if you are not into royalty then an adopted child of some billionaire or a top film star. How would that affect how you saw yourself? I assume you couldn’t help but see things differently. You would realise you had new rights, new privileges, new access, a new standing in the world etc. Well that is all true but a million times more when you become a child of God.

Is life meaningless, do we work and toil at things without real purpose? It can seem that way. But as a child of God we can have a hope and a future that will not perish or fade. A hope and a future that is secure. Our lives will not be meaningless or signify nothing. Instead they will have purpose, meaning and significance. There is hope and a future.

As always if I have raised questions you want answered I suggest Alpha. It’s a free, no strings attached Christian course. Check out alpha.org

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Upload

There is a recently released Amazon Prime series, made before the virus. It’s an absolute mine of insights to the modern psyche. It is funny, mostly intentional, thought provoking, exciting, it’s even a love story and a general fun romp. Warning there are bits that will be unsuitable for some people. I won’t spoil the whole plot in case you haven’t seen it and are going to, but the basic premise is that when you die you can choose to have your consciousness uploaded into virtual reality called ‘heaven’.

It’s that basic premise that gives me the basis for this blog. For many years people have been trying to extend physical life, ever since people stopped generally believing in God and heaven. After all if you think this is all there is, you need to extend it. Upload is the current generations answer to that issue, your consciousness, which they say is who you are, could continue in a virtual world. Doesn’t that open a whole can of worms. Are we just the total of our memories and the contents of our brains. Do we equate to content on a hard drive? Which by the way is how a persons consciousness can be transported in Upload. It is a satire, so you can’t analyse it too closely, but it still raises interesting issues. ‘I think therefore I am’ becomes ‘the content of what I think is who I am’. I don’t know about you, but I reckon that a human is more than the sum of their parts. There is something beyond mere memories and thoughts. A baby has not yet got memories and can’t really think in the way we understand it, but they are human. Are they less human because they have less content? Is a genius more human? Does a person with brain damage who has lost the ability to remember anything cease to be human? Surely you would all agree that there is something beyond memories that makes us human. You cannot upload what you do not comprehend. If you only uploaded memories what would that be? Would it be a human?

Another thing that Upload highlights is that in the man made heaven of Upload you pay not only for the privilege of upload but day by day and for extras while there. That is such a horrible thought. We pay for everything here, heat, light, water, food. I think most of us would agree that at least when we die the cost of living ends. Not in Upload. Again I know it’s satire, but it is pointing at things that are part of how people think and act in our world.

Then there is the cross over between the two worlds. You can visit the virtual heaven with VR glasses and suits. That is a whole other area of humour, and shock in the series. It’s playing on the idea of mediums and ghosts but with tech. Actually while I am on the subject of entering the VR world from the physical it’s a good time to make another observation about humanity. The people visiting are effectively just looking in from outside. Their whole existence, reality, consciousness, still exists in the real world, they are just using VR goggles or a suit to look into and possibly feel the VR world. That is very different from the uploads. The uploads have ceased to exist in the real world, they only exist in VR. Hence my earlier comment about containing the whole of who someone is within their memories. Because that is all that is transferred. We are more than our memories.

I will finish with this thought. I believe there is a real heaven and a real God. We get to know him through Jesus. If you want to know more about Christianity there is a course that is free to attend and has no pressure or follow ups. It’s called Alpha.org I realise that during lockdown there will be no physical meetings. But the website will have information.

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