Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Approaching The End Of The Road

I recently changed doctors - if you have followed my blog for a while you will know that the blood tests were negative.

Six days after I had seen that GP, I went back for clarification, and six days after diagnosing me with a heart condition, she lost her temper with me for refusing to accept that there is nothing wrong with my heart - which seems (a) unprofessional behaviour and (b) hard to reconcile with her diagnosis of the previous week.

When I outlined the symptons I had had the previous day, she flew off the handle again, having a go at me for "troubling" the surgery with this.

I got up, walked to receptionist, asked them to make the GP aware of the Zero Tolerance rules and to ensure that her behaviour met with these rules, went to another surgery to register, got home and wrote a letter to the General Medical Council's Fitness To Practice Directorate.

So this morning I overslept, and wondered whether to just phone up and cancel - after all, I had been let down enough and didn't want it again. But I decided that instead I would hurridly get up and out and go.

This was a very positive meeting. The GP, a locum, had seen the notes I had written about my heart problems (yes, there is a standard form about your health history, but I felt this warranted a complete A4 sheet). And he noted that I had been let down so many times over this, and it was time something was done. So he'll be writing to the cardiology department at Southampton General Hospital to move things on, and he was talking about either minor surgery to correct the problem or medicines to manage it.

In addition, he noted the effect all this has had on me - the uncertainty over my health, the financial stress of ending up unemployed over it etc.

And finally I felt like I was being taken seriously, and that we will get to the bottom of this.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Shine On Harvest Moon

The Moon is now waning after the Blue Moon of 21 August, and the next full Moon is on 19 September - just 3 days before the autumnal equinox. And the full Moon nearest to the equinox is known as the Harvest Moon.

Next year will be interesting - the equinox is at 3.29am (Central European Time/British Summer Time) on 23 September, while there are full Moons at 2.38 am on 9 September and 11.51am on 8 October (which coincides with a total lunar eclipse, which won't be visible from the United Kingdom). The September one is 14 days 0 hours 51 minutes before the equinox and the October one is 15 days 8 hours 22 minutes after the equinox, so the September one is an early Harvest Moon.

In 2015 it is a bit simpler - equinox at 9.21 am (CET/BST) on 23 September, and the Harvest Moon at 3.50am on 28 September, which coincides with a total lunar eclipse which is visible from the United Kingdom and is worth getting up early on a Monday morning for.

There is one thing that the Harvest Moon is well known for, which is that Moonrise is nearly the same each night around it. If we look at the week centred on this we will see what happens (times in CET/BST):

Date Moonrise Later by Moonset Later by Time Above Horizon Longer by
September 15/16 4.56pm 39 mins 2.54am 1 hr 16 mins 9 hrs 58 mins 37 mins
September 16/17 5.30pm 34 mins 4.12am 1 hr 18 mins 10 hrs 42 mins 44 mins
September 17/18 6.00pm 30 mins 5.29am 1 hr 17 mins 11 hrs 29 mins 47 mins
September 18/19 6.27pm 27 mins 6.46am 1 hr 17 mins 12 hrs 19 mins 50 mins
September 19/20 6.53pm 26 mins 8.01am 1 hr 15 mins 13 hrs 8 mins 49 mins
September 20/21 7.19pm 26 mins 9.13am 1 hr 12 mins 13 hrs 54 mins 46 mins
September 21/22 7.47pm 28 mins 10.23am 1 hr 10 mins 14 hrs 36 mins 42 mins
September 22/23 8.18pm 31 mins 11.29am 1 hr 6 mins 15 hrs 11 mins 35 mins

As we can see, the amount of time the Moon is above the horizon is increasing, and the time of moonset is getting later at a faster rate than that of moonrise.

Around the time of the Harvest Moon, the Moon's declination is increasing. The Harvest Moon itself will normally happen in Aquarius (all images from Heavens Above)

or in Pisces:

. Sometimes, to oonfuse the astrologers, it's in Cetus:

When I looked at how the nights were drawing in, I noted that the greater an object's declination, the longer it spends above the horizon. And this is what we see around Harvest Moon - the Moon is moving northwards, so is spemding longer above the horizon. It is still at its highest between 45 and 50 minutes later each night, but the two effects means that the time between moonrises is decreased and that between moonsets is increased.

Can this lengthening of the time the Moon is above the horizon ever become big enough to push moonrise earlier? Not from Southampton, but look what happens if we go to Tromsø, at a latitude of 69 degress 40 minutes - so above the Arctic Circle. The times are Eastern European Time, which is 1 hour ahead of CET/BST:

Date Moonrise Later by Moonset Later by Time Above Horizon Longer by
September 15/16 6.21pm 1 min 0.47am 1 hr 57 mins 6 hrs 26 mins 1hr 56 mins
September 16/17 6.20pm minus 1 min 2.42am 1 hr 55 mins 8 hrs 22 mins 1hr 56 mins
September 17/18 6.18pm minus 2 mins 4.32am 1 hr 50 mins 10 hrs 14 mins 1 hr 52 mins
September 18/19 6.16pm minus 2 mins 6.22am 1 hr 50 mins 12 hrs 6 mins 1 hr 52 mins
September 19/20 6.14pm minus 2 mins 8.08am 1 hr 46 mins 13 hrs 54 mins 1 hr 48 mins
September 20/21 6.12pm minus 2 mins 9.52am 1 hr 44 mins 15 hrs 40 mins 1 hr 46 mins
September 21/22 6.11pm minus 1 min 11.35am 1 hr 43 mins 17 hrs 24 mins 1 hr 44 mins
September 22/23 6.10pm minus 1 min 1.16pm 1 hr 41 mins 19 hrs 6 mins 1 hr 42 mins

At higher northern latitudes, there is a greater difference in time between the horizon for a shift of 1 degree in declination, compared to lower latitudes. And so we see here that it is possible, around the time of Harvest Moon, for moonrise to get slightly earlier each night.

We are actually around the point where this effect is least pronounced. I noted that the Moon can be above or below the ecliptic, and that currently when the Moon is at its furthest north, it is below the ecliptic - hence conversely, when it is at its furthest south, it is above the ecliptic. This means that it has a smaller-than-average declination range. Hence when it is passing through the Aquarus/Pisces area, its declination is increasing at a slower-than-average rate, and as a consequence the time it is above the horizon is increasing at a slower-than-average rate.

If we go forward 11 years to 2024, then we have the opposite effect. And if we look at the week around the Harvest Moon, which is at 4.34am (CET/BST) on 18 September, then we get:

Date Moonrise Later by Moonset Later by Time Above Horizon Longer by
September 14/15 6.15pm 31 mins 2.24am 1 hr 27 mins 8 hrs 9 mins 56 mins
September 15/16 6.38pm 23 mins 3.56am 1 hr 32 mins 9 hrs 18 mins 1 hr 9 mins
September 16/17 6.56pm 18 mins 5.28am 1 hr 32 mins 10 hrs 32 mins 1 hr 14 mins
September 17/18 7.11pm 15 mins 6.59am 1 hr 31 mins 11 hrs 48 mins 1 hr 16 mins
September 18/19 7.24pm 13 mins 8.31am 1 hr 32 mins 13 hrs 7 mins 1 hr 19 mins
September 19/20 7.39pm 15 mins 10.03am 1 hr 32 mins 14 hrs 24 mins 1 hr 17 mins
September 20/21 7.55pm 16 mins 11.35am 1 hr 32 mins 15 hrs 40 mins 1 hr 16 mins
September 21/22 8.16pm 21 mins 1.06pm 1 hr 31 mins 16 hrs 50 mins 1 hr 10 mins

As we can see, with the Moon's declination increasing at a faster rate than in 2013, the gaps between moonrise are smaller. What about Tromsø?:

Date Moonrise Later by Moonset Later by Time Above Horizon Longer by
September 14/15 Below horizon
September 15/16 8.54pm N/A 1.02am N/A 4 hrs 8 mins N/A
September 16/17 7.57pm minus 57 mins 3.53am 2 hrs 51 mins 7 hrs 56 mins 3 hrs 48 mins
September 17/18 7.22pm minus 35 mins 6.18am 2 hrs 25 mins 10 hrs 56 mins 3 hrs
September 18/19 6.53pm minus 29 mins 8.41am 2 hrs 23 mins 13 hrs 48 mins 2 hrs 52 mins
September 19/20 6.22pm minus 31 mins 11.13am 2 hrs 32 mins 16 hrs 51 mins 3 hrs 3 mins
September 20/21 5.42pm minus 40 mins 3.00pm 3 hrs 47 mins 21 hrs 18 mins 4 hr 27 mins
September 21/22 3.52pm minus 1 hr 50 mins 7.50pm on 28 September 6 days 4 hrs 50 mins 7 days 3 hrs 58 mins 6 days 6 hrs 40 mins

So, at these times, this is an interesting effect we see at these latitudes. The Moon spends nearly a week too far south to be seen, and then it appears, but rises earlier each evening. Then there is about a week when it is circumpolar before moving southwards, this time with moonset being earlier each night.

Whatever Happened To St Bartholomew?

The Apostles were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and they travelled in Judas' chariot.

According to our Religious Studies teacher in his continuing mission to make sure we realised that Christianity was dull, boring and irrelevant, that was an answer given by one of his pupils as to who the Apostles were.

The Bible tells us that Jesus chose 12 Apostles:

And He called to Him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. (Matt 10:1-4)

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those whom He desired, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with Him and He might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. (Mark 3:13-19)

And when day came, He called His disciples and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:13-16)

Today is St Bartholomew's Day, and to be honest, we don't know much about him. The Bible doesn't go into much detail.

But the important thing is that he knew God and was known by God. Does it matter how posterity remembers us, as long as we know that our salvation is secure in trusting in Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross?

Binge Spirituality

I had a good Quiet Time today. But there is one problem, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

It's the going for days just treading water - simply saying Morning Prayer from the Church of England's Common Worship, but going no deeper.

For my Bible study part, I use Explore from the Good Book Company. But I have got into the habit of not studying the Bible daily.

Yes, I tell myself - unemployed - that I don't have time, yet I find time to play chess against the computer, Tweet and use Facebook, as well as watching DVDs.

And then I binge - do a massive Quiet Time to somehow make up for all the ones I've missed. It is not healthy spiritually, and just reminds me that what is needed is faithful self-discipline.

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Wrong Type Of Labour Peer - The Genius Of Tony Blair

Late last month and earlier this month there was the fuss about whether the Government was packing the House of Lords with its supporters.

Accusations have always been made that the Government - whether red, blue or an orangey-blue - are doing this.

Currently, Labour has 212 life peers, who have been appointed, as well as 4 hereditaries elected under the House of Lords Act 1999 and who thus avoided expulsion in November 1999.

If we look at the numbers of life peers who are still alive who took up their seats in the tenure of each leader, then we get:

Leader From To Labour Ex-Labour Leave of Absence Total
Harold Wilson February 1963 April 1976 2 0 1 3
James Callaghan April 1976 November 1980 3 0 1 4
Michael Foot November 1980 October 1983 2 0 2 4
Neil Kinnock October 1983 July 1992 16 0 2 18
John Smith July 1992 May 1994 5 0 1 6
Margaret Beckett May 1994 July 1994 0 0 0 0
Tony Blair July 1994 June 2007 137 10 6 153
Gordon Brown June 2007 May 2010 8 0 1 9
Harriet Harman May 2010 September 2010 28 0 0 28
Ted Miliband September 2010 Very, very soon 10 0 0 10
Total 211 10 14 235

Notice one thing that is mentioned is the Leave of Absence. There are various reasons why someone might hold an eligible peerage but not be allowed to sit in the House of Lords - with a full list here. There is no-one under 21 (this uses to be valid before the expulsion of the hereditary peers as an hereditary peerage can, of course, be inherited at any age), no-one excluded for not being a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen, no bankrupts, and no-one convicted of treason (in an extreme case, as the Titles Deprivation Act 1917 allowed for, a person can be stripped of their peerage for treason).

That leaves, as the list shows, various Justices of the Supreme Court who are disqualified under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, and Sarah Ludford, the Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for London, is disqualified under the European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008.

One thing to notice that, at the bottom of the table it states there are 211 appointed Labour life peers, while there are 212. The anomaly is May Blood - one of the peers in the June 1999 list of working peers which gave Labour, for the first time, more life peers than the Conservatives - who was initially from the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, and is now on the Labour benches.

There are also the ex-Labour peers, all of whom took their seats when Blair was leader - Nazir Ahmed; former Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham; Brian Mackenzie; Martin O'Neill; Swraj Paul; John Sewel, who gave his name to the Sewel Convention; former Culture, Media & Sport Secretary Chris Smith; Paul Truscott; Pola Uddin; and Barbara Young. Some of these are losing the Labour whip through misdemeanours, while others are simply a wish to be politically neutral (e.g. Smith is Chairman of the Environment Agency)

Then there are the peers on a Leave of Absence. From the Wilson era is Arthur Jones, who has the earliest existing life peerage (the earliest Labour peer still in the House of Lords is Marica Williams, another Wilson appointee), although by the time he took a Leave of Absence he was sitting on the Crossbenches.

From the Callaghan era there is Betty Lockwood, and from the Foot era there are Olive Nicol and Gwilym Prys-Davies.

From the Kinnock era there are Donald Macauley and former Northern Ireland Secretary Roy Mason, while the Smith era gives us Richard Attenborough.

The Blair era provides former International Development Secretary Valerie Amos; Vice-President of the European Commission with responsibility for the Common Foreign & Security Policy Cathy Ashton; David Sainsbury; David Simon; George Simpson; and Terence Thomas, while from the Brown era there is just Shriti Vadera.

How do people become life peers? Traditionally, there are the two main honours lists - the Birthday Honours List in early June and the New Year Honours List - which these days tend not to be used to give peerages. The main way is through the parties drawing up, about once a year, lists of working peers.

In Government there is a system of ad hoc appointments to enable new ministers in neither House to sit in the House of Lords. After Labour won the May 1997 general election, Blair appointed Simon as Minister for Trade & Competitiveness in Europe.

It was Brown who was the expert at doing this. Upon taking office, he gave peerages to not only Vadera, but Ara Darzi and Alan West, to enable them to serve in the Government.

And in October 2008, Brown pulled Peter Mandelson from his role as European Commissioner for Trade (replacing him by Ashton, creating the interesting question whether Mandelson would now be doing her job if the switch hadn't happened) to become Business & Enterprise Secretary, followed in June 2009 by appointing Glenys Kinnock as Minister for Europe - a slightly dodgy move as, although this was after that month's elections to the European Parliament, MEPs serve from July to July, so she was still technically an MEP for Wales (akin to elections to the American House of Representatives taking place in November, but Congresspersons not officially taking their posts until two months later).

Another ad hoc way involves moving serving MPs. The last example was in August 1998, when the then-Defence Secretary, George Robertson, was elevated to the peerage, and didn't step down from his role until October. This reversion to peers running Government departments (except for the Lord Chancellor's Department - now forming the nucleus of the Ministry of Justice) was followed by the example of Amos later in the Blair Government, as well as Mandelson, who by the time Labour left office (with Andrew Adonis being Transport Secretary from the House of Lords) had added First Secretary of State and Lord President of the Council to his job title.

Elevating an MP to the peerage to serve as a minister involves a by-election (unless it is close to a general election), so is a bit of a gamble.

Other methods are the two special Honours Lists. The first type is the Dissolution Honours List, which - as the name implies - happens just after Parliament is dissolved, and sees retiring MPs getting peerages. The second type is the Resignation Honours List, which is the farewell from a retiring or defeated Prime Minister - although neither Blair nor Brown did this.

The power to appoint or nominate peers is an important one for a party leader. While the first Dissolution Honours List after becoming leader can be a time for "encouraging" long-serving MPs in safe seats to retire and pave the way for new MPs more in line with the leader's ideology, later appointments or nominations are the chance to stamp the leader's philosophy on the party - long-term.

It was often said when forner Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was at her peak that the real Opposition was not the Labour benches opposite her, but the House of Lords, full of Conservative peers (many hereditaries) from an earlier era, who did not buy into her philosophy.

Blair often got criticised for flooding the House of Lords with Blairite peers, but I wonder if he were playing a canny long-term game. I said recently that looking at the current Labour party, it was hard to believe that Blair was ever its leader.

And I wonder whether this massive creation of peers - which he was within his rights to do - was not to prevent his legacy being overturned by a Conservative-led Government, but by a Labour one.

The House of Lords is more-or-less full. There is no way the next Labour Prime Minister could create loads of new peers. Blair created a peer logjam - there is a whole generation there, with his values and ideas, owing their place to him, which has to move on before there can be any peerage creation on the same scale.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Nights Are Drawing In

Well, by now it is noticeable. ABout two months from the summer solstice and a month to go to the autumnal equinox, it is getting darker earlier. If we look at the times of sunrise and sunset from Southampton Sunday-by-Sunday from August to December we get:

Date Sunrise Later by Sunset Earlier by Daylight shorter by
August 4 5.36am 10 mins 8.46pm 11 mins 21 mins
August 11 5.47am 11 mins 8.34pm 12 mins 23 mins
August 18 5.58am 11 mins 8.20pm 14 mins 25 mins
August 25 6.08am 10 mins 8.06pm 14 mins 24 mins
September 1 6.19am 11 mins 7.51pm 15 mins 26 mins
September 8 6.30am 11 mins 7.35pm 16 mins 27 mins
September 15 6.41am 11 mins 7.20pm 15 mins 26 mins
September 22 6.52am 11 mins 7.04pm 16 mins 27 mins
September 29 7.03am 11 mins 6.48pm 16 mins 27 mins
October 6 7.14am 11 mins 6.32pm 16 mins 27 mins
October 13 7.26am 12 mins 6.17pm 15 mins 27 mins
October 20 7.37am 11 mins 6.03pm 14 mins 25 mins
October 27* 6.49am 12 mins 4.49pm 14 mins 26 mins
November 3 7.01am 12 mins 4.37pm 12 mins 24 mins
November 10 7.13am 12 mins 4.25pm 12 mins 24 mins
November 17 7.25am 12 mins 4.16pm 9 mins 21 mins
November 24 7.36am 11 mins 4.08pm 8 mins 19 mins
December 1 7.47am 11 mins 4.03pm 5 mins 16 mins
December 8 7.55am 8 mins 4.00pm 3 mins 11 mins
December 15 8.02am 7 mins 4.00pm 0 mins 7 mins
December 22 8.07am 5 mins 4.02pm minus 2 mins 3 mins
December 29 8.08am 1 min 4.07pm minus 5 mins minus 4 mins

[* The clocks change from Central European Time (often called British Summer Time) to Universal Time (oftern called Greenwich Mean Time)]

But what is causing this?

In the sky, there is an equivalent of latitude known as declination - and this is measured in degrees. And the connection is that objects of a declination equal to the latitude pass overhead at some point in the siderial day - which is about 4 minutes shorter than the day we are used to (as a rough rule of thumb, in a 365-day year, the stars are im the same position 366 times).

So, if we take Southampton, at a latitude of 50 degrees 55 minutes, then we expect anything that has a declination of 50 degrees 55 minutes to pass overhead - these will be the constellations of Cassiopeia, Perseus, Auriga, Lynx, Ursa Major, Canes Venatici, Boötes, Hercules, Draco, Cygnus and Lacerta.

As we might expect, the more further north an object is, the longer it spends above the horizon. If we deduct 50 degrees 55 minutes from 90 degress, then we get 39 degrees 5 minutes, and anything further north than that is circumpolar, which means it is alwsys above the horixon. The north pole of the sky (near to the star Polaris) is 50 degrees 55 minutes above the horizon, due north, from Southampton, so anything less than 50 degrees 55 minutes from it (i.e. anything with a declination of more than 39 degrees 5 minutes) will be too close to go below the horizon.

That means that all of Camelopardalis, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco and Ursa Minor and parts of Andromeda, Auriga, Boötes, Canes Venatici, Corona Borealis, Cygnus, Hercules, Lacerta, Leo Minor, Lynx, Lyra, Perseus and Ursa Major are circumpolar.

If we move to the other end of the United Kingdom - to Lerwick, which is 60 degrees 9 minutes north, then anything with a declination greater than 29 degrees 51 minutes will be circumpolar. This now brings in the remaider of Lacerta, Lynx and Perseus, more of Andromeda, Auriga, Boötes, Canes Venatici, Corona Borealis, Cygnus, Hercules, Leo Minor, Lyra and Ursa Major, along with parts of Aries, Cancer, Coma Berenices, Gemini, Leo, Pegasus, Pisces, Taurus and Triangulum.

It takes a bit of spherical geometry to work out how long an object at a certain declination will spend continually above the horizon from Southampton:

Declination Time above horizon
+23 degrees* 16h 9m
+22 degrees 15h 56m
+21 degrees 15h 43m
+20 degrees 15h 30m
+15 degrees 14h 32m
+10 degrees 13h 38m
+5 degrees 12h 47m
0 degrees 11h 58m
-5 degrees 11h 9m
-10 degrees 10h 18m
-15 degrees 9h 24m
-20 degrees 8h 26m
-21 degrees 8h 13m
-22 degrees 8h 0m
-23 degrees 7h 47m

[* Here we follow the convention of northern declinations being positive and southern ones being negative]

One thing that is noticeable is that the amount of time an object is above the horizon changes decreases at its slowest rate at the celestial equator - when the declination is zero. For example, an object with a declination of 39 degrees will be above the horizon continually for 23 hours 21 minutes, while an object just 1 degree south of that will be above the horizon for "only" 21 hours 50 minutes.

You will note that an object on the celestial equator is above the horizon continually for just 11 hours 58 minutes - this might seem odd, but it is half a siderial day.

It is sometimes said that the equinoxes are when night and day are equal. However, this year the autumnal equinox is on September 22, and the Sun is above the horizon for 12 hours 12 minutes - it is not until September 25 that the Sun is above the horizon for just 12 hours.

There are two effects causing this. Firstly, the Sun is not a point source - it is about half a degree across. So it takes time to rise and set - around the solstices it will be just over 4 minutes, and around the equinoxes just over 3 minutes.

The second effect is refraction. Have you ever done the experiment of putting a pencil in a glass of water, and seeing that it appears bent? This is an effect of the light slowing down a bit in water (it's the light that is bent, not the pencil), and a similar effect occurs in the atmosphere. A direct line from the Sun to you might pass through the Earth (just!) but the atmosphere is bending the light, so they Sun is a bit higher than it should be, and hence above the horizon. Both these effects lengthen the day a little bit.

Another thing to note is that as we approach the equinox, something changes. At the summer solstice, the Sun begins in Taurus (all images from Heavens Above).

Then on June 21 it enters Gemini.

Followed by Cancer on July 20.

Then Leo on August 10.

And Virgo on September 16.

Notice the line in all of these which the Sun lies on and the planets lie near - this is called the ecliptic. You'll see that in Taurus and Gemini it's quite shallow, with the declination not changing much, and by the time it gets to Leo the ecliptic gets steeper, so the Sun's declination is decreasing faster. We can see this by the dates the Sun reaches certain declinations:

Declination Date
+20 degrees July 23
+15 degrees August 12
+10 degrees August 27
+5 degrees September 10
0 degrees September 22
-5 degrees October 5
-10 degrees October 19
-15 degrees November 3
-20 degrees November 21

And if we look at the time it takes:

From To Days
+20 degrees +15 degrees 20
+15 degrees +10 degrees 15
+10 degrees +5 degrees 14
+5 degrees 0 degrees 12
0 degrees -5 degrees 13
-5 degrees -10 degrees 14
-10 degrees -15 degrees 15
-15 degrees -20 degrees 18

So, as you might expect, the Sun's declinaton changes fastest near the equinox - not only does the day get shorter, but it gets noticeably lower in the sky.

If the Sun's declination is changing faster, then something must slow to compensate - after all the ecliptic is inclined. There is a celestial equivalent to longitude, which is known as right ascension, and this is measured in units of time. In one siderial day, the sky rotates through 24 hours of right ascension. With 365 days in the year, you would expect the Sun's right ascension to increase by just under 4 minutes per day.

And it would - if the Earth orbited in a circle and the axis was not inclined.

However, the Earth orbits in an ellipse, as demonstrated in the 17th century by Johannes Kepler as one his three laws of planetary motion. The second and third tell us that when the Earth is closest to the Sun (perihelion) in early January then it is moving fastest, and conversely, when it is furthest from the Sun (aphelion) in early July then it is moving slowest. So the Sun is moving fastest along the ecliptic in early January and slowest along the ecliptic in early July.

And if the Sun's declination is changing faster than average then its right ascension is changing slower than average. The time between midday and midday remains the same from day to day. So, if the Sun's right ascension is changing slower than average, then it is at its highest, due south, slightly earlier than the day before - and this is the period around the equinoxes. And conversely, if the Sun's right ascension is changing faster than average, then it is at its highest slightly later than the day before.

And we see this effect with our rise and set times in the first table. Notice that the amount of time sunrise was getting later by did not match the amount of time that sunset was getting earlier by. That is because until about early November, the Sun is at its highest earlier each day. And so, as the day shortened, the change in setting time is greater than the change in rising time.

After early November the effect is reversed, and by the time we get to mid-December the Sun's declination isn't changing much, so the length of the day isn't changing much. But the time the Sun is at its highest is getting later, so this leads to a period from around mid-December to early January where both sunrise and sunset are getting later. Although the shortest day is December 21, the winter solstice, by that point we have already passed the earlest sunset. Look for the effect round Christmas and Hogmanay of the evenings starting to get a bit lighter while the mornings get a bit darker.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Having Dinner On The Edge Of A Parallel Universe

Saturday I was in Cardiff, and in the afternoon I did something I had wanted to do for a long time.

The Arriva Wales train went up through the valleys - though given it was raining the views were not as impressive as they could have been. And an hour from Cardiff, here we were - the final stop.

In 1984, my dad came home from work to tell us that his employers would probably be relocating from Eastleigh to Aberdare, and so we would have to move from the New Forest to the Welsh Valleys.

As the train came in at Aberdare, I reminded myself that in the parallel world where his employers didn't decide to stay in Eastleigh, this would have been the journey home. Wherever I had been, I would have got on a train at Cardiff Central and feel that my journeying for that day would have neen over. That if, in this parallel world, I had still gone to St Andrews' University, then there would have been the train ride home through the border counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire, as well as down the North West of England.

It was raining and I walked down from the railway station, across the Cynon and over a main road into the town centre. All the time reflecting on how this could have been my hometown. The shopping area is more extensive than Hythe.

Feeling hungry, I passed the library and found a Wetherspoon near to the river Dare (which I assume gives the town its name) and ordered dinner there. I found a table and asked a man at the next table to keep an eye on my rucksack. And one thought struck me - if life had gone slightly differently, and I had moved to Aberdare, this would be someone I knew whom I was asking to keep an eye on it. And at the bar, had a look round and realised that if I had moved there I would have known most people there. But I didn't know them. And they didn't know me. And in a curious sense they didn't know that they didn't know me - you know the classic sci-fi trope of a parallel universe and A saying to B "in another reality we were friends".

By the time I'd finished, I needed to get back to the station for the last train I could take to get back to Southampton in reasonable time (if I go to somewhere where I go through Salisbury or change there, I find it easier to get a slow train back and get off at Millbrook).

And then yesterday was my birthday meal with friends, old and new. Some I've known for a few months, others since school days. And this is the real world. This is where I've been placed. I wonder whether the circumstances which led to me becoming a Christian would have happened if I had lived in Aberdare?

I do speculate how life would have been if something different had happened - I love counter-factual histories as long as they're sensible (e.g. Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance pushes Labour into third place at the June 1983 general election - what happens next? Former Labour deputy leader Roy Jenkins, politically distant from the Gang of Three, decides to stand as a Liberal in a by-election in the 1979-83 Parliamennt and returns to the House of Commons) and not the writer's fantasy (e.g Iain Macleod doesn't die in July 1970/William Whitelaw wins the February 1975 Conservative leadership eleection and we see a Butskellite Conservative party return to power where the word "monetarism" is never heard).

As I was having lunch and then we were standing on the pavement having ice-cream, I was just thinking that if I'd moved to Aberdare then these would have been strangers - and not only that, their names would have been unfamiliar to me. Those friendships would not have existed. Yet, here we were, in reality, with people whose only connection was me and God, meeting.

And, that is God's providence. You may not end up where you want, but you end up where He wants.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Stand Up And Take A Stand Against Drugs

This afternoon I did a lot of standing around. I had registered with a new GP's surgery, and was walking back home along Oakley Road and decided to take a short cut by going north along Teboura Way, where there is no real footpath, just a grass verge.

As I was walking I came to the entrance of Mill Mead something caught my eye. It was a couple of syringes. Uh-oh.

The problem is that there was grass around, so who knows what was lying in that, and indeed inside the entrance? And this is a place children could be playing at sometime (not on the grass verge, of course, but parents could take children into Mill Mead).

I had left my mobile at home. I didn't want to leave where I was, in case any child saw something shiny that I had missed and decided to play with it - with long-term consequences. So, there was one thing I could do, and one thing only.

Stand and wait. Wait till the first police car came by and get the occupants' attention.

In all, I stood there for 2 hours. People in cars stare at you. You get the ones who call out to you from the passenger side of their best friend's ride, and you do not hear what they shout, but you know it's rude.

People jump to their own conclusions what you are doing there. If you take a stand you will be misunderstood and you will be laughed at. No matter, if you're doing the right thing.

A police car was going along the other side of Teboura Way and I waved at it frantically as well as pointing to the syringes. It indicated and did a U-turn at the crossroads (which I think it was not supposed to do, but anyway) and drew alongside. One of the officers in it looked at the syringes and took them while looking around. They were not aware of any drugs activity there, but will keep an eye out.

This all makes me angry. These drug addicts do not care who the victims are of their addiction. Few things anger me more than the celebrity drug addicts, who try to make it all look cool, and especially those who get defended by their supporters on the grounds "they do a lot for the starving children in Africa" (i.e. get free PR by appearing on Comic Relief).

If they cared about starving children in Africa, or elsewhere for that matter, they would consider the children who have been orphaned in drugs wars or are starving due to land being used for drugs instead of crops.

And of course, when a celebrity druggie dies, we are expected to show we care by having a grief-a-thon, and to not give a **** about the children who have been the innocent victimes of their lifestyle.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

When I'm 64

Today is my 41st birthday - and I think this is the stage when one is only interested in milestones. So, no, when I woke up it didn't feel special. In part this is because I let my birthday move around a bit. On Sunday I will catch up with old and new friends for lunch, followed by family visiting, so I'll open my presents and have the birthday cake then.

I remember when young there were these milestones - it seems legally one hits various parts of being an adult at 16, 18 and 21, rather than in one fell swoop.

And it's 9 years till I can take part in some over-50s things. In 19 years I can get a senior railcard. Under the Pensions Act 2011, I have to wait 26 years for my state pension.

It says something that I am now at the stage of life where old age feels closer than childhood.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

And The No News Is....

And so the saga of my heart issues continues after my blood test as I have to carry on developing patience.

I was feeling ill while in the West Quay centre last Friday morning - I had been on my way to catch the ferry over to Hythe - and made my way into Waterstones.

The staff were helpful, sitting me down in the erotic fiction section and getting me a glass water, then calling first aiders. What surprised me was that they wouldn't call for paramedics, on the grounds paramedics wouldn't come out for something like this. Er, previously paramedics have treated this as urgent. So, I had to sit and wait till I felt I could walk around again without a sense of being about to fall over.

And yesterday was the moment-of-truth visit to the doctors. And the conclusion is....


No diabetes. No anaemia. No thyroid gland problems.

Normally this would be good news. But it means there is still no name to my health problems of this year - except one, which I am unsure of.

The doctor didn't ask me about symptoms, but believes I have something she called SVT. The problem with resorting to doc-speak is that the patient cannot respond. So, when I got home and did some searching online, I came across Supraventricular Tachycardia, which sounds like something that Mary Poppins might say.

The problem is that I have a low heartrate anyway (50-55 per minute is normal for me) and when I have been taken to A&E the issue has not been tachycardia, but the opposite, bradycardia, i.e. my heart rate falls below what it normally is.

So, by not asking about my symptoms, the doctor was barking up the wrong tree. Good thing she didn't prescribe me any medicine to deal with a fast heartrate.

Still no furher forward.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Is Peter Capaldi Too Old To Be The Doctor?

It didn't take long, did it? Only hours after the announcement that Peter Capaldi is the new Doctor Who, the Daily Mail has tracked down fans who believe he is too old.

Capaldi was born in April 1958. When he makes his debut in the Christmas special, he will be 55 years 8 months old. How does that compare?

Actor Born First appearance Age at first appearance
William Hartnell January 1908 November 1963 55 years 10 months
Patrick Troughton March 1920 October 1966 46 years 7 months
Jon Pertwee July 1919 January 1970 50 years 6 months
Tom Baker January 1934 June 1974 40 years 5 months
Peter Davison April 1951 March 1981 29 years 11 months
Colin Baker June 1943 March 1984 40 years 9 months
Sylvester McCoy August 1943 September 1987 44 years 1 month
Paul McGann November 1959 May 1996 36 years 6 months
Christopher Eccleston February 1964 March 2005 41 years 1 month
David Tennant April 1971 June 2005 34 years 3 months
Matt Smith October 1982 January 2010 27 years 3 months

So, both Troughton and Davison have handed over to actors born before them. In addition Colin Baker and McGann have handed over to actors who take on the role at an older age.

Hence, out of the 10 regenerations we have had, 4 have seen the Doctor get older, and 6 younger.

There is also the anomalous position of John Hurt, who in the Season 33 finale, The Name of the Doctor in June 2013, was revealed to be the Doctor. Hurt was born in January 1940, making him 73 years 5 months when first appearing. If we take him to be a missing Doctor between McGann and Eccleston, then we are looking at him being between 56 years 4 months and 65 years 2 months when "debuting". Whether Hurt is the Doctor is something we will have to wait and see.

Interestingly, Capaldi was born before all the actors who have played the Doctor from McGann onwards, and he is the first actor to play the Doctor since McGann to have been born before the opening adventure, An Unearthly Child, was shown. Eccleston was born between the final episode of The Edge of Destruction and the first episode of Marco Polo; Tennant was born between the second and third episodes of Colony In Space; and Smith was born between the final episode of Time Flight and the first episode of Arc of Infinity

At 55, Capaldi is the second oldest actor to play the Doctor. I don't think this matters. Ultimately, the question is whether he does a good job of it.

Interesting that Hartnell's portrayal is that of an old man, but Capaldi doesn't strike me as old. Middle-aged perhaps, but not old. And if he manages 4 years, he could be the oldest actor to leave the role.

With this, I want to have a look at a spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which began in January 2007, with Elisabeth Sladen reprising the role of former companion Sarah Jane Smith. Sladen was born in February 1946, so was 60 years 10 months when this began. Did anyone complain that she was too old for the role? Not as far as I'm aware. Doctor Who can work with an older lead.

And when we look at the companions, Catherine Tate was born in May 1968, so was 38 years 7 months when she first appeared as Donna Noble in The Runaway Bride and 39 years 11 months when Donna became a regular companion in Partners In Crime. John Barrowman was born in March 1967, so was 38 years 2 months when he first appeared as Jack Harkness in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances in May 2005, and 40 years 3 months when his name first appeared in the opening credits in Utopia. Tennant is in the unusual position of having had two companions played by people older than him.

Also born before Tennant is Alex Kingston, born in March 1963 - I guess that the Doctor finally being played by someone older than her could cause changes to the dynamics of the Doctor/River Song relationship.

No, Capaldi is not too old. He will be fantastic, absolutely fantastic. Yes, it'll be a change to the show, and not a moment too soon.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

High Moon

When I went out to get the newspapers this morning I noticed the Moon was high up. And the reason for this is that it was in Taurus (images from Heavens Above):

Why is this? The Moon lies near the ecliptic - the Sun's path with regards to the stars - and when it's at its greatest northern declination (the equivalent of latitude on the Earth) it'll be in Taurus, or in Gemini (where there are currently 3 planets in the dawn sky - Mercury, Mars and Jupiter):

If the Moon is some way north of the ecliptic (it doesn't follow the ecliptic exactly), then it might be in Auriga:

While if it is some way south of the ecliptic then it can be in Orion (as it will be on Saturday):

But when does it reach this point?:

Time of Year Moon highest
Vernal equinox First Quarter
Summer solstice New Moon
Autumnal equinox Lsst Quarter
Winter solstice Full Moon

Now, of course, you're rarely going to get the full Moon exactly at a solstice, or anything like that, but we can see that between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox (i.e. at this time of year), the Moon will be highest when it is between last quarter and new Moon - so when it is a waning crescent.

This summer has 4 full Moons - the next one (21 August) is a Blue Moon and the one after that is the Harvest Moon. About a week or so after those go and look for the Moon in the sky after sunrise.

This autumn there are 3 full Moons:

  • 0.38am (Central European Time/British Summer Time) on 19 October
  • 3.16pm (Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time) on 17 November
  • 9.28am on 17 December

In the week or so after that, go out in the morning and look for the waning gibbous high in the sky.

Is Dave Really Packing The House of Lords?

Today saw the list of working peers announced. Now, these are not political honours - peerages are rarely given as honours these days - but people expected to do work there.

One principle is that (from the House of Lords own website:

No one party has overall control in the House of Lords. Since 1999 Peers have been appointed roughly in proportion to the share of votes cast in the most recent General Election. Coalitions must be built across party groups and ‘cross-benchers’ in order to avoid or inflict defeats.

In an earlier post I dealt with the issue of whether the House of Lords will ultimately grow too much. If we look at the current composition (and remember this list gets updated):

  • Labour - 216
  • Conservative - 208
  • Crossbench - 183
  • Liberal Democrats - 89
  • Bishops - 25
  • Non-affiliated - 21
  • Minor parties - 13

As we see, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Government has 297 of the 755 members of the House of Lords. That is a "majority" of minus 161, with the Government having just 39.34% of the seats in the Lords.

Here Labour is becoming disingenious. Labour peer Oona King tweets:

Govt already has a de facto majority in Lords: 298 coalition peers compared to 216 Labour peers. Oh go on Dave, pack it some more

The thing is, it doesn't have this "de facto majority".

The list of working peers includes 14 Conservative, 10 Liberal Democrat, 5 Labour and 1 Green. This expands the House of Lords by 30, to bring it up to 785. And the new composition is:

  • Conservative - 222
  • Labour - 221
  • Crossbench - 183
  • Liberal Democrats - 99
  • Bishops - 25
  • Non-affiliated - 21
  • Minor parties - 14

This gives the Government 321 of the 785 members. Put it another way, a "majority" of minus 143, with the Government increasing to just 40.89% of the seats.

And then we get this tweet from Labour peer Steve Bassam:

New peers list will give Govt a political majority of roughly a 100. No Govt has sought to dominate the Lords in modern Britain like this

One thing to note is that, in all the years I have followed British politics, I have never, until today, come across these terms "de facto majority" and "political majority". They have been drawn up to enable Labour peers to stamp their feet, say it's unfair and to accuse Prime Minister David Cameron of packing the House of Lords.

Do their claims stack up? Well, no is the simple answer.

Look at what the House of Lords website says again. We should aim for the number of peers to reflect the share of the vote at the May 2010 general election. And if we have 542 peers from the 3 main parties, we should expect them to be this:

  • Conservative - 222
  • Labour - 178
  • Liberal Democrat - 142

So, the Conservatives have the same number of peers as they are entitled to, Labour has 43 too many, and the Liberal Democrats have 43 too few.

Rather than packing the Lords with Government peers, Cameron has chosen to limit the number so that Labour is over-represented.

If Cameron made the decision to allow Labour to have no more working peers when the next list is drawn up, and to abide by the principle that party strength in the House of Lords should reflect general election votes, then we would be looking at 1 peer per 38,597 votes. That would mean the Conservatives would be entitled to 275 peers (an increase of 53) and the Liberal Democrats 175 (an increase of 76).

What about the Labour complaint that when they formed a Government they didn't have a "political majority" in the House of Lords? Well, when they were in power, they faced 2 Oppsition parties.

We are now in the world of hung Parliaments and coalitions. And, unless a fourth party appears on the scene (hi, UK Independence Party), then there will be a Government of 2 parties and one Opposition party. And simple maths tells you that if you only consider the Governmet and Opposition, then one of these will have over half the combined Government and Opposition seats.

So, what do Labour want when they put their toys back in the pram? To have party strengths proportional to the share of the vote - in which case they either need to say whether they will ask 43 of their peers to take a leave of absence or urge Cameron to create 129 new Government peers asap. Or do they want to have a "political majority" in the House of Lords? What's it gonna be?