I once had a religious experience

10-sided dice are used for games requiring per...

10-sided dice are used for games requiring percentages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to run a thriving games club in our local town hall. We mainly played board and card games with the occasional foray into a war-game or roleplaying game. The town hall is only a short walk from where I live so I used to walk there and back. We had no storage at the club, so I usually dragged along a large kit bag full of games that we could choose from.

One evening, I was walking home carrying the kit bag as usual. Up ahead of me was a man leaning up against the wall smoking a cigarette. He was a good 6 inches taller than me and he had big shoulders. He had a skinhead haircut and exuded menace. He might have been waiting for a bus except that the bus stop was 30 yards further up the road.

As I walked past him, he said something to me that I didn’t quite catch. I didn’t really want to get into any kind of exchange so I just mumbled something non-committal and hoped that inertia would keep him there smoking his cigarette. When I was about 10 paces ahead of him, I heard him stamp out his cigarette and start walking up the hill behind me.

I needed to cross the road to get home anyway and I wanted to know if he was following me so making sure the road was clear I quickly crossed the road. I heard him cross behind me. I was anxious now, running through the possibilities in my mind. What was I going to do if this came to an altercation? Mother Nature wasn’t very kind when handing out my physique, so there was little hope of me outrunning him and even less of me coming off as the victor in any kind of scuffle.

I came to a junction. Normally I would turn off the main road into a quieter residential street. This time though, I carried on up the hill. There was a petrol station up ahead and maybe that was where he was heading. We walked past the petrol station and he was still there behind me. His pace quickened and my stomach started to churn.

A plan formed in my mind. I would throw the kit bag at him and run like hell, hoping that he was more interested in the contents of my bag than in doing damage to me. I heard him close behind me and braced myself. As I turned to face him, a car careened off the road beside us and came to a screeching halt in between us.

The man ran off.

I peered into the car, my legs like jelly. The window came down and inside there were three nuns. Not women dressed up in fancy dress – honest to goodness – nuns. They asked if I was OK and told me that they had seen the man and they were convinced he was a sinner. I agreed and thanked them. They offered me a lift, but I declined and made my way nervously home.

If it hadn’t been for their timely interjection, it could have been a very nasty business.

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The greatest show on Earth

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2012 Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the winning city for the 2012 Olympics bid was announced in Singapore, Britain rejoiced for 24 hours. The following day, the 7/7 atrocity took place in the capital and the mood of the country flipped to sadness and anger. For a number of reasons, this Olympics will be etched into the memories of the host nation more than any other.

This is the 30th Olympiad and the 3rd occasion with London as the host nation. 4 years ago, it was Beijing and by any standards, the spectacular show the Chinese put on is crushingly difficult to follow. As always in the build up to such events, there have been wobbles along the way.

When Boris and Beckham in a bus rolled into the 2008 closing ceremony for the handover, I cringed. All Beckham had to do was kick a ball into a massive goal mouth and when he missed – I cringed again. It all looked so amateur in contrast to the drilled professionalism that surrounded them.

June 2011 - Aerial photo of the Olympic Park m...

June 2011 – Aerial photo of the Olympic Park main stadium and Orbit tower under construction (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Opening Ceremony for 2012 was a closely guarded secret. Indeed, when we took a helicopter over the Olympic park a few weeks before the ceremony, the flight restrictions were legion, apparently in place to stop photography of the rehearsals of the opening ceremony. Inside the stadium, there wasn’t much to be seen when we made our all too brief fly past. The base of the arena looked like the rolling fields of the British countryside.

We watched the opening ceremony nervously, hoping against hope that we didn’t embarrass ourselves on the world stage. we needn’t have worried – it was so good, we watched in again last night on BBC iPlayer. The opening was a bit shaky, with frolicking and wobbly Maypoles, but the choirs singing Jerusalem and Flower of Scotland raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

The Industrial Revolution kicked in and top hatted gentlemen in their hundreds made their way in. Uprooting trees and rolling back grass to make way for the vast belching chimneys. Pools of red-hot steel were poured into gullies to form large rings, Olympic rings. Once made whole, they were lifted skyward, triumphantly forming one of the most famous logos in the world.

A helicopter picked up James Bond and Her Majesty the Queen from Buckingham Palace and whisked them over the impressive London skyline and they parachuted into the stadium wearing Union Jack parachutes. The London Symphony Orchestra played Chariots of Fire with the help of Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean in one of the funniest sequences of the show. A tribute was paid to the digital age with Sir Tim Berners-Lee  tweeting live from stage.

OPENING CEREMONY

OPENING CEREMONY (Photo credit: itupictures)

With our heritage of creative industry, music was always going to feature heavily in the opening ceremony. There were some strange choices I thought. Mike Oldfield and the Arctic Monkeys rather than the Rolling Stones. No Elton John or Cliff Richard for example. No Take That or the Spice Girls.

The athletes parade was enjoyable, but interminably long. It seemed to take an hour just to get through countries beginning with the letter ‘A’. There were many countries that I had never heard of and as the host nation, we had to wait until last. In we came along to David Bowie’s “We could be Heroes”.

One of the most poignant things I have seen for some time was the tribute to those who lost their lives in the 7/7 bombings. A haunting rendition of “Abide with me” as the photographs of the 56 victims flashed past in a montage on-screen. May they be remembered and let’s hope that nothing like it ever happens again.

Good luck to all our athletes. Proud to be British.

Facial recognition – my phone is better than I am

A facial composite produced by FACES software

A facial composite produced by FACES software (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never been particularly good at recognising faces or at putting names to faces. Unfortunately, this is compounded by the fact that I have to meet a lot of people as part of my job. I used to be really envious of my optician who remembers every single customer by name. Either he doesn’t have many customers or more likely he is very good at recognising people.

Facial recognition seems to be everywhere now. Most smartphones have the technology built-in. My wife’s camera has it. Even Facebook has it, and it tends to be pretty accurate too. Facial recognition has come a very long way since I first played with it 15 years ago.

We were doing some research for some US department of something or other on whether facial recognition and crowd recognition software could be used to tackle such diverse issues as crowd control, anti terrorism and to pick out pickpockets in a large group of people.

The blurb behind the recognition engines was impressive. Apparently, the software could pick out the telltale movement signatures of someone who was up to no good or by looking at a crowd, predictions could be made as to the underlying mood of the crowd and how likely they were to become hostile.

We had to take their word for some of these features, because our lab lacked both a large crowd and a friendly felon to act shiftily. We all took it turns to pretend to act shiftily, but either the machine was too clever to be fooled or we just didn’t have it within us act nefariously enough.

We could, however, test out the facial recognition engine. We each took it in turns to have our photograph taken to give the software a library of faces to choose from. All in all, we had about half a dozen photos. Once we had the photos, we took turns to pose in front of the camera to see how the facial recognition engine worked in practise.

All in all, it wasn’t too bad at recognising a full face image, getting it right probably 3 out of 4 times. The trouble was the time the processing took. If you were pointing your camera at a crowd of people trying to pick out a known felon, your crowd would be half a mile down the road before the software had made it through half the crowd. The processing power simply wasn’t enough back then.

I assume that with the increase in processing power in the last 15 years, such software is viable these days and in common usage in airports and at large stadium events around the world. Even though it all sounds a bit big brother, I think it’s a good thing if it improves the safety of the general populace.

I just wish they would hurry up and install facial recognition into my spectacles so that I might be able to recognise someone other than my optician.

Ice cold in Wadduwa

John Mills

John Mills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not fanatical about black and white films but one of my favourites is “Ice Cold in Alex” starring John Mills, Anthony Quayle and Sylvia Syms. It follows a rag-tag group of people during world war two who make their way across the German occupied desert in North Africa in an ambulance, searching for the safe haven of Alexandria. It is a gruelling trip, so to help with their motivation, they promise themselves an ice-cold beer when they get there (hence the title). If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching.

I had my own “Ice Cold” moment when we were on honeymoon in Sri Lanka. We had booked an all-inclusive package so all food was included as were local drinks. The local beer was called Lion beer and it came either on draught or, as is the custom in India and Sri Lanka, in 625ml bottles. To begin with it was just about passable, but because of the heat, the beer became very warm very quickly.

After a few days, my taste buds had decided that there was no way another Lion Beer was passing my lips. When the barman came over, I asked what other beers they had. He looked confused. “Is there something wrong with the Lion Beer sir?” he enquired. I could have said yes, but I didn’t want to go through several iterations of the poor bar staff trying to fix something that had gone wrong long before the beer ever got to them.

A manager appeared and asked me what the problem was. I said to him that I simply wanted to know what other beers they had. After a long agitated conversation in Singhalese – one of the barman came over, looked conspiratorially left and right before whispering to me that as well as Lion Beer, they also had Carlsberg. Carlsberg – perfect! Just like in Ice Cold in Alex. I told him to get me one. He protested, saying that Carlsberg was going to cost me money – the Lion Beer was included. After a brief discussion where he realised that I was resolute, he despatched the other barman to go and find me a Carlsberg.

I began to really look forward to the ice-cold beer. I pictured myself as John Mills, hot, parched and desperate for a nice, refreshing glass of quality beer. The barman took a long time finding the bottle of Carlsberg, but I didn’t care , somehow the anticipation was almost as enjoyable as I knew the taste of this ice cold Carlsberg would be.

English: Detail of a Carlsberg glass. Galego: ...

English: Detail of a Carlsberg glass. Galego: Detalle dun vaso de Carlsberg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eventually, the barman appeared, brushing the dust off a dark green bottle of Carlsberg. They set it down in front of me together with an ice-cold glass. Condensation formed on both the bottle and the glass. It suddenly occurred to me that they probably weren’t asked for Carlsberg that often, so I checked the date making sure that I wasn’t about to be poisoned by out of date beer. No need to worry – it was well within date.

I poured the contents of the bottle slowly into the glass. The contents looked like nectar and a nice frothy, white head formed. I brushed my finger down the side of the glass, feeling the cool condensation. I took a deep breath and then sank a large slug of ice-cold beer and promptly sprayed it all over the grass. It tasted worse than the Lion Beer!

I read the label; “Brewed under license by the Lion Beer Company Colombo”.

Quick – play some “hurry-up” music

Bluewater

Bluewater (Photo credit: Rictor Norton & David Allen)

Bluewater park is a massive cathedral to consumerism in the South-East of the UK with over 330 retailers under its considerable roof. According to their website, the average visitor spends about 3 hours there and 98% of visitors say that they enjoyed their visit. I would be among the 2% who didn’t, because 3 hours in a shopping mall sounds like my idea of hell. To me, shopping is an activity involving precision; I need something, so I go directly to the shop that sells those things and buy the first example that fits my requirements.

One of the most interesting projects I ever worked on, however was the building management system for Bluewater. Bearing in mind that it opened in 1999, their requirements were surprisingly sophisticated. They wanted an intelligent system that combined both audio and olfactory zones within Bluewater so that they could play different sounds and emit different smells in different parts of the building.

Accompanying the tender was a study by some foreign scientist (whose nationality and name escapes me) which explained the rationale behind their complex requirements. This scientist had conducted a study and worked out that human behaviour could be manipulated by sounds and smells. If you played a certain kind of music, people would hurry up. If you played different music, they slowed down.

Bluewater

Bluewater (Photo credit: Rictor Norton & David Allen)

I was skeptical but there was even “come hither” music that made people more likely to head in a certain direction. The key phrase here is “more likely”. The music didn’t turn everyone into bumbling automatons, it increased the number of people moving in a certain direction by something like 50%. The smells worked in the same way. Shops that paid more would get the come hither music and smell. I’m not sure if they had “go away” smell for shops that didn’t pay their rent, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Like most large buildings, Bluewater was split into zones. If there was an evacuation alarm, then to avoid panic, the alarm would go off in the zone containing the threat. In the adjacent zones, depending on how close they were to the epicentre, would either have “get the hell out of dodge” music or “would you mind getting a move on” music, whereas a bit further on, there would be “don’t you worry about it” music.

I wish I’d paid a bit more attention. When my wife is taking a long time to get ready – I could play “hurry up” music and when I want to stay in the pub and she wants to go home, I could play “just chill out and relax” music.

English: Interior of Bluewater Shopping Mall

English: Interior of Bluewater Shopping Mall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have no idea how much of the spec’ made it into the final building management system because we didn’t win the bid, but I would love to hear from someone in the know. I would also like to hear from shoppers who have visited Bluewater. Have you noticed the music in different zones and have you ever been enticed into a shop by a lovely smell ?

Sometimes, open warfare breaks out in the office

The theatre of war

The theatre of war

All things considered, our office is a mellow place. There is seldom a crossed word and it is a rare occasion indeed when voices are raised (and even then, it never lasts for long). Every now and then though, the office is home to a pitched battle and I feel that I am somewhat responsible.

You see, as well as a first class office for the technology division of the market leading banking software house, the facilities are also tailor-made for the odd war-game.

The scenario underway in these photos is the very first battle in the Pacific War, the invasion of Malaya by Japanese forces. The night before the fearsome attack on Pearl Harbour, just after midnight, Japanese forces descended on the coast near Kota Bharu.

It doesn't look good for the British

It doesn’t look good for the British

Luckily for the British (or more accurately Indian) army, the seas were very rough and many Japanese soldiers drowned. Despite these losses, the Japanese fielded a formidable force. In defence, the British relied on a network of pillboxes, minefields and an appropriated 18 pounder gun.

Our game focussed on one spot of beach defended by the 3rd / 17th Dogras under the command of Captain Nawin Chandra. Unfortunately, just like in real life, the battle did not end well for the British and victory lay in the hands of the Japanese.

It was to be the beginning of a long and bloody campaign that spanned the Pacific and unfortunately, many more battles were lost before the tide turned.

Next time, we’re off to the Russian front!

I can’t understand a word you’re saying…

Land Rover 109 lwb 1980

Land Rover 109 lwb 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever I see those adverts for the iPhone where they show off the speech recognition software (called Siri), I can’t help a wry smile forming on my face. I was asked to undertake a feasibility study of speech recognition software once. It was roughly 15 years ago in the Pentium era.

My boss thought that the technology would prove useful in our care control system. The elderly and the infirm wear electronic pendants and when they get into trouble, they simply press the button on the pendant. The base station under the phone wakes up and dials the control centre so that the person in trouble can be connected an operator.

Local authorities across the land had signed up for the software and it was a big success. In metropolitan areas such as Birmingham, they had pendant wearers from all kinds of ethnicities and many of them could not speak English. It was impractical to teach all the control centre operators all the different languages so they relied on interpreters which had to be called in on demand. This system was very expensive and there was an inevitable delay in getting relief to where it was needed.

If we had speech recognition built into the software, we could connect the pendant wearer directly to the right interpreter. We could also weed out all the false positives like people who pressed the button by accident. Sounds perfect – all we need is speech recognition.

I installed the Lernout & Huaspe speech recognition engine, wrote a simple little program to test out the software and plugged in my microphone. On the screen was a list of three cars. When I spoke into the Microphone, all the software had to do was work out which of the three cars I called out (what can I say – I like cars).

The first attempt went well; “Land Rover” I said carefully into the Microphone. A message popped up saying “You said Land Rover”. So far so good.

Second attempt; “Mini”. Again, a message popped up saying “You said Land Rover”. Not so good.

I tried saying “Mini” again, speaking more slowly and clearly this time, it still thought I was saying Land Rover.

I tried saying it quickly,

I varied the tone of my voice.

I tried different volume levels.

I even tried a different Microphone; “You said Land Rover”.

I thought it might just be the word “Mini”, so I tried “Jaguar”; “You said Land Rover”.

I swore at it. “You said Land Rover”.

The idea was doomed. If it couldn’t recognise me speaking clearly into a Microphone an inch away from my mouth with no background noise – it was never, ever going to work in our target environment. Most of the pendant wearers were totally deaf, so the TV would be on at maximum volume and they would never have the good grace to fall over right next door to the base station so their voice would be distorted by distance.

I went back to my boss and told him that it would never catch on.

My writing career so far…

WordPress

WordPress (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

It never occurred to me that I could write.

There was the odd success at school, but nothing to suggest that I ought to forgo all other careers and take to life as a wordsmith. A couple of years ago, I started to write updates for my department at work. Encouraged by feedback, the update email blossomed into a blog. A few people suggested I blogged for a wider audience and I began the Finextra.com blog.

It was only a few months ago on a trip to Cornwall that I picked up a writing magazine purely on a whim. As luck would have it, that particular magazine was all about electronic publishing and I spent much of the holiday tapping away on my keyboard setting up my brand new wordpress blog.

WordPress.com is superb and thanks to the ease with which you can set up your blog and publicise it, I soon had a regular following. WordPress is heavily gamified and you find yourself glued to your stat’s page watching the page views creep up. I still remember my first “Like” and when I excitedly told my wife that my first comment had arrived, she looked at me as if I was mad.

Since then I have joined a local writing group made up of an eclectic set of individuals. Collective imagination is so much more powerful than anything an individual could conjure up and we have had some fun with some group writing. One such exercise has the first person starting a story with one sentence. The second person has three sentences to develop the story. The third person has to either finish the story or bring it to a cliffhanger with only two sentences. At the end of the exercise, we had twelve stories; two or three of them were brilliant, half a dozen were very good and only a handful were ropey. Not bad considering we only had ten minutes.

I have also submitted some short stories to a publisher, thinking what’s the worst that can happen? Ignoring success for a moment, in order; silence, then “Thanks, but no thanks”, after that “No thanks, but here’s some feedback”. I was chuffed when I was rejected with feedback – at least I could learn from the experience.

All in all, I have enjoyed writing immensely. I’ve been humbled by some of the people I have met in the process and cannot believe I have had hits from 58 countries.

Somehow I doubt it will replace the day job, but you never know…

The bargain

Spanish Fairy

Spanish Fairy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cock crowed and he cried. As he pulled on his rough-hewn sackcloth clothes, he still cried. He stepped outside his meagre dwelling, looked up at the looming castle through the rain and saw no reason to stop crying. Many would envy his position as a blacksmith’s apprentice, but Thomas was miserable. He was useless at smithing and Master Flint never missed an opportunity to ridicule him in front of the other apprentices. His foul breath was as hot as any furnace and the flecks of spittle burned like cinders as he blasted out his daily tirades.

How he hated Master Flint.

Thomas trudged up the hill to the castle trying to understand how he found it so difficult. The instructions were simple enough, but the tools felt like shapeless, clumsy clubs in his hands. Master Flint talked about the feel of the craft, but it was all Thomas could do to avoid maiming himself as he hefted the white-hot metal.

As he approached the threshold, he heard Master Flint giving his first lecture of the day. Realising with dismay that he was late, Thomas tried to sneak to his workplace unnoticed. He almost made it when Master Flint stopped mid sentence. With trepidation, Thomas turned to look, only to see Master Flint’s eyes burning into his soul. For a change, there was no tirade and Master Flint just stared at Thomas as he shuffled with sloped shoulders to take his place.

Master Flint resumed exactly where he left off, all the time glaring at Thomas. Today’s task was all about forging a dagger, one of the most challenging jobs the apprentices had faced so far. Thomas’ heart sank. He had struggled at almost everything so far. How on Earth was he going to forge a dagger. His worst fears were confirmed when Master Flint’s assistant dumped the unformed lump of metal onto Thomas’ workbench. It looked nothing like a dagger.

After dropping it twice, Thomas managed to get the lump under control. His heart froze when it nearly slipped from his tongs into the slag at the bottom of the furnace, but somehow he managed to get the ingot white hot. Edging the glowing lump over to his anvil, he groped around for the right tool. Settling for the first he found, Thomas swung it as hard as he could into the ingot.

It struck with an off-pitch clang and vicious sparks flew out in every direction. Thomas screamed as one flew into his eye. Master Flint appeared from nowhere, grabbed the tool from Thomas’ hand and rattled out the three things he had done wrong – each punctuated with a ringing blow on the anvil. The pain in his eye and the ignominy of yet another lecture in front of everyone was too much for Thomas. He ripped off his apron and ran.

He darted across the busy courtyard and down a corridor. Skittering around a corner, he nearly lost his footing on the wet flagstones. Another turn later and he slowed his pace, but not his sobbing. One more turn and he was lost. He noticed it was no longer raining, and the castle looked different. The stones looked more haphazard, but cleaner. Bright, sweet-smelling flowers grew at the base of the walls. Nearby, he could hear the cascade of a stream and a girl’s voice singing a haunting melody.

Still sobbing, he followed the sounds around the next corner. The singing girl had long dark hair and she dangled her feet in the small, rapid stream. She heard him, stopped singing and turned. Thomas froze. She was dressed in rags, but there was no denying her beauty. Even when she withdrew her feet from the stream and boldly approached him, the sound was almost magical.

Tipping her head to one side, she reached up to touch Thomas’ cheeks and his tears dried beneath her caress. “You are troubled.” her words almost like musical raindrops. “For a kiss, I can grant your deepest desire, but you have to be sure of what you want.” Thomas quickly leaned in and kissed her. The rags she wore felt like silk and Thomas found himself lost in her heady aroma.

* * *

He was unsure of how long he had slept, but Thomas awoke stiff and damp. It was still daylight and knowing his place was at the forge, he reluctantly paced his way back there. Thomas made no pretence of hiding from Master Flint and Master Flint made no secret of his contempt for Thomas, but no words were spoken.

Thomas reached for his tongs and thrust the ingot back into the furnace. Somehow, he knew exactly the right moment to pull it out and he instinctively started working it with the right tool. He hammered the ingot with just the right pressure and somehow it started to take shape. Realising his work had cooled, he thrust it back into the flames. Again, he pulled it out without fumbling and resumed working the iron.

With growing confidence, Thomas’ work rate increased. His hands were almost a blur, the notes from the hammer blows forming a satisfying rhythm. He didn’t even notice the other apprentices as they gathered round him watching in awe. What he did notice was when he felt Master Flint’s encouraging hand on his shoulder and his whispered encouraging words in his ear.

Thomas felt alive and his spirits soared. He had only ever dreamed of becoming a competent smith. The notion that he might actually excel and impress Master Flint made him beam uncontrollably. By his skilled hand, the finest dagger Thomas had ever seen came to life. When he finished, he cradled the dagger, savouring the perfect balance and the pleasing shape.

He offered it up to Master flint who laughed and sagely nodded “there were times when I ‘ad my doubts about you boy. But you come good in the end.”

Thomas could not help but smile wordlessly and proud, not noticing when his hand formed a vice-like grip around the hilt of the dagger. For reasons he could not fathom, he felt like hugging Master Flint. As Thomas approached, his grip on the dagger tightened. He threw his arms around Master Flint, meaning to drop the dagger, but his hand did not obey.

As the dagger slipped between Master Flint’s ribs, Thomas realised with horror the nature of his bargain.

The slowest, most amazing thing in the world

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from...

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from the path to the base camp, Tibet. Español: Cara norte del Monte Everest vista desde el sendero que lleva al campo base en el Tibet (China). Français : Face nord du Mont Everest vue du chemin menant au camp de base. Tibet. Italiano: Faccia Nord del monte Everest vista dal sentiero che porta al campo base in Tibet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every so often, Mother Nature gives us a short, sharp lesson in who’s boss. Whether it is the enormity of Hurricane Katrina or the tsunamis that have struck twice in recent history in Asia, these brutal events unfold with ferocity and yet when you see the video coverage, they seem to  move incredibly slowly. No doubt for the people on the ground facing them, they move plenty fast enough.

The sheer power of the forces involved is difficult to comprehend because most of the time, our landscape changes so very slowly. Our tectonic plates shift and collide (or separate) by distances that can be measured in centimetres every year. London sinks whilst the West of the UK rises. But when you look around at the scenery that surrounds us, every mountain, every hill and every valley has been formed by elemental, natural forces over an incomprehensible time period.

There is no shortage of impressive natural features in this world and they look wonderful in their own right, but once you understand how they came to be formed, they become even more epic in scale. The fjords of Norway were all cut by glaciers over millennia. The Grand Canyon was carved by the endless erosion of the Colorado river. The Alps and Himalayas formed by two tectonic plates squeezing together for a very long time.

There are experts who argue that mankind is causing irreversible damage to the planet and that climate change is a very real phenomena. The average temperature is rising and so are the sea levels. But there are as many experts that argue against climate change citing that temperatures and sea levels have a history of changing on a geological scale. I’m no expert but I’m certainly getting fed up of being rained on and I can’t help but feel that we’re not doing the planet any good.

I can only imagine that it must be frustrating to be a geologist – knowing that all these elemental forces have shaped the entire planet and that the best you can hope for is to see Mount Everest grow by about a foot in your lifetime.