Friday, 21 May 2010

What Harry Potter Did Next - A Sequel to the Deathly Hallows

You can't work outside when it's raining so I recently re-read “The Deathly Hallows”, to extract the maximum from the many plot links and references to previous events. I think it's the best one of the Harry Potter series. But after all their adventures what did Harry and his friends do next?

Harry didn’t want to go back to Hogwarts, where he would always have fingers pointed at him and constantly be a focus of attention for the younger girls, but neither was he keen to continue brooding at Grimmauld Place with Kreacher. He was besieged by book offers but turned them all down! He felt that he no longer had a role in life. Recent events were still too raw in his mind and he felt guilty concerning his friends and acquaintances, and all the others, who were killed by Voldemort and his Death Eaters whilst he solved the puzzle of the horcruxes. If only he could have worked it out sooner!

Hermione eventually persuaded Harry that he needed to finish his schooling because, as he freely admitted in later years, “there were just so many things I didn't know”! The opportunity to be with Ginny for the school year was the deciding factor. Or was it Quidditch?
Having finally completed his N.E.W.T.s and then his Auror training he took Ginny and set off on a world tour, giving lectures about how he defeated You-Know-Who, and with Hermione’s help, making enough galleons in a couple of years so that he didn’t have to work at all if he didn’t want to. His message was always the same; “I am not anyone special and I had a lot of help! Voldemort himself picked me out and marked me as his equal; and he made lots of mistakes because he didn’t value love and self-sacrifice”. Harry was granted honours wherever he went and was voted a special pension by the American Ministry of Magic in exchange for the occasional week of consultancy concerning special relations with Muggles. He was awarded Witch Weekly International’s award for the most eligible bachelor but Ginny refused to let him go to the presentation ceremony saying “If you want to be part of that nonsense I’ll never marry you”! Harry didn’t need any more persuading.

Harry also started a charity called Youthwatch whose principal aim was to locate young wizards in the Muggle world and help them to avoid being subjected to child abuse by frightened and ignorant parents.

Only Rita Skeeter managed to find anyone with any harsh words to say about Harry and that was of course Malfoy. Ms Skeeter, glossing over the fact that he still bore the Dark Mark, quotes Draco Malfoy as saying, “Harry Potter was always obsessed with power. At Hogwarts he even set up his own army! He thinks he’s going to be Minister of Magic one day”. To be charitable, it was thus revealed how little he actually knew about Harry.  He was also still very angry over the recent death of his father. By the way anyone carrying the Death Eater’s Dark Mark, if they survived their sentences in Azkabhan, was banned from any form of public office and refused entry to the Ministry of Magic. Many of them went to live abroad in one of the smaller countries of South America, where they took over some of the established drug cartels.

Of course for Hermione there was no choice. She had to take her that she could go on to do her P.h.D.D. (Particularly hard and Difficult Dissertation) which was on the subject of the mastership of wands and how they interact with their owners. Later, having acted as Harry’s manager for a few years, she married Ron and after she had established her academic credentials by publishing various articles and papers in prestigious wizarding journals, she wrote the definitive biography of Harry Potter. This was, of course, a worldwide best seller in many languages. She was invited to teach at Hogwarts but turned the offer down preferring to be with Ron, to write books and to bring up the kids. Apart from her family there was something else of which she was most proud.  After a long campaign her "Charter of Rights for House Elves" was finally passed in the Wizengamot.

Ron was deeply affected by the loss of his brother Fred and stayed at home recovering for a while. He didn’t go back to Hogwarts but joined his brother George in the joke shop business, opening the Hogsmeade branch while Hermione studied for her exams. Later, after he married Hermione, he ran the sales and marketing side of the business while George progressively concentrated more and more on product development. At one stage he bought an ice cream van, and told everyone that he was going to sell Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Ice Cream. In reality it turned out to be a mobile joke shop, which he asked Reginald Cattermole and his wife to run.

As JKR says in the postscript to The Deathly Hallows, Neville became the herbology professor at Hogwarts and kept in touch with the members of the DA. After Luna’s father died Neville married her and, during the school holidays, they went on happy and successful trips all over the world looking for, and finding, rare specimens of magical plants to include in Neville’s book, which Luna illustrated. As Luna said to a smiling Hermione one day “looking for rare things with her father was very good but it is even more exciting to actually find them with Neville”!

Read JK Rowlings interview for NBC about what the characters did next and in the Scotsman

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mostly Irises

Here are some photos of our garden.

At this time of year the main interest is the irises. We bought them in May 2007 from a nursery called Les Senteurs du Quercy in the south of the Lot, where they have several hectares of irises growing in their fields. This is their website.   We first read about "Les Senteurs" in a magazine and decided to visit them. As well as irises they also specialise in sages and plants that like dry conditions. We could not resist the beautiful fields of irises and ordered six different varieties for collection in late July. Since they were in flower we could easily imagine the colour combinations but it still took us several hours. While we waited for them to be lifted I prepared the planting sites with loving care and this is the result. When we collected them they gave us quite a few free plants as well and they are just as lovely. Everyone has pale blue irises here, they are so easy to grow and need little care, but the more unusual colours are not often seen. A couple of the local gardeners, have already asked for some plants when we divide them next year!
The blue wild flowers are native sages in our meadow. Interestingly some of them have mutated into an attractive pink.

Friday, 14 May 2010


Annick Cammarata makes graceful figures in pottery using Raku techniques. You can see some of them here. We first met her a couple of years ago when we went to collect one of her pieces that we had bought at an exhibition. Since then we have been asking her when she was going to do a course and finally, after she had moved house, just over the border into the Aveyron, and her husband Paul had built a studio, we went there in April and May.
We needed two days because in April we made the items, then they have to thoroughly dry and have their first 1000 deg C biscuit firing. I made four bowls and an angora goat. Christiane made a bowl, an irregular shaped box with a lid and a large platter. I had told Christiane before we went that I wanted to make a goat like the ones at La Ferme de Siran above Autoire and even when I was over halfway through the modelling process she was sceptical. Fortunately I seem to have a minor talent for this sort of thing and with some helpful advice from Annick it turned out very well. Annick remarked on the speed with which I was able to make the bowls. We timed the last one and it took twenty minutes. This was using a turntable and my fingers, not a potter’s wheel which would be far quicker but is much more difficult.

In May we returned to do the glazes and the dramatic second firing. Annick had mixed various glazes and fired a sample piece so that we would have an idea of the colours that are possible. Glazes can be painted on using a brush like the bowls or poured on like the platter.
It is during the second firing that the Raku process is used to make the glazes produce their colours and the characteristic cracked finish. The pieces are heated to 950 deg C in the kiln and then quickly removed and put on a bed of sawdust and wood shavings in a container. More sawdust is thrown on top and the container is sealed. The smoke blackens unglazed surfaces and restricting the ingress of air generates reducing conditions which creates the colours and sheen of the metal oxide glazes. At the same time the thermal shock cracks the glazes and sometimes the smoke penetrates the cracks making interesting patterns.

When they have cooled you have the excitement of revealing the colours as you clean the pieces up with water and a scouring pad. Raku is rather a chancy process and colours don’t always come out as expected. Sometimes you get fewer colours and more metallic sheen, at other times a particular glaze gives neither colour nor sheen and ends up grey, but even then it usually looks interesting. Both of us really like what we produced. The only real investment is a kiln and I could easily imagine taking up Raku as a hobby.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the angora goat is called Mildred.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Panic on the Markets or Cyber Attack?

This one is a bit technical! Last Thursday 6th May there was a massive 9% drop on the Dow Jones. In just a matter of seconds it fell 500 points. 
There is speculation that some unfortunate trader made a very big mistake with a zero or two, giving the market the downward nudge that then unleashed a series of program trades, which then pushed it down a further few hundred points. An investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is underway. Because there was no underlying reason for the market to suddenly drop it recovered during the next trading session, but the event sent shock waves around the world’s markets.
Back in the mists of time, circa 1968, when I was studying control systems as part of my chemical engineering course at Exeter, I was taught about how to ensure that a control system was stable and didn’t shoot off to one extreme or the other at the slightest perturbation. In spite of having an analogue computer to demonstrate it, rather like the one on the right, I didn’t really understand it at the time, not intuitively anyway! It was only later, when I was able to see the effect that changes to the control parameters had on real systems, that I began to appreciate what my lecturers had been trying to teach me. In a three term controller you have three settings: Gain, Derivative and Integral time all acting on a system with inertia, in other words a system which takes time to react to the change in the setpoint value. This article explains it very well.
It is clear to me that program trading has increased the sensitivity, “the Gain” in the stock market. On the other hand the system inertia, the period of time it took for traders and investors to hear of an event and to decide what to do, has been shortened to milliseconds. The integral control term, which over time brings the system back to its new state of stability, still exists because not all trading is done using computers, people do act in the market, and eventually, if there is no rational reason for the market to stay down, then there is money to be made by buying and waiting for it to rise.
So if regulators want to avoid the sort of unnecessary panic that was created last Thursday, then they need to either delay program trades or limit their size. The problem is that the smart guys can use their program trades to make money. By being able to react so quickly they can take advantage of smaller investors who are not so well equipped. So whilst the smaller investors are still selling, reacting to the original drop in value, which may have happened a few hours ago, the smart guys have programmed their computers to buy as soon as the price starts to rise and are buying up the bargains in the basement. The smart guys, who are all large financial institutions with lots of political pull, will not want anything changed to limit their money making opportunities so the SEC is unlikely to take any action, which in any case would have to be by international agreement.
There is another aspect to consider. In such an unstable system what if there was a politically motivated “cyber attack” designed to assault the capitalist system at its heart.
I wonder what the security protocols are for connecting to the Stock Markets, how easy is it to crack them and who might be motivated to do so?  What are the authorities doing about it? Anyone who knows is very welcome to reassure me!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The UK Election from a French Viewpoint

As I write this the negotiations between David Cameron and Nick Clegg are still going on and the one thing that was definitely needed, a strong UK government, looks very unlikely.
On French radio the UK election generally took second place to the financial crisis concerning Greece and the Euro. The coverage intensified a couple of days before polling day when reporters were filing from London, Sheffield and Doncaster. The interviews with “ordinary” people were mostly describing their financial difficulties, their complaints about employment, the economy and their lack of ability to pay their bills. This may well be representative of people in Sheffield and Doncaster, which have for decades been in economic decline as a result of the closure of heavy manufacturing and mining industries. The electoral system was well described but came across as if it was like cricket: only comprehensible to the English. (Personally I find the French system with its lists and its two rounds of voting equally incomprehensible, like the rules of petanque and rugby).
Christiane says that I should not keep comparing how things are done in France with the equivalent in the UK, but I can’t help it! She thinks I am over sensitive, but it always seems to me that when the French media get stuck into UK politics they are always looking for the flaws in the UK “liberal model“ in which they consider that there is very little protection for the individual. I, on the other hand, consider that there is far more opportunity in the UK, for ambitious or bright individuals who, if they start a successful business there, are not going to be overtaxed and over-regulated and then taxed again each year on their total wealth as they would be in France.
There was another report about UK industrial legislation concerning strikes saying that it is the most draconian in Europe. It then went on to describe the strike ballot process, which in the UK is legally required before giving notice of a strike. The implication was that this was an unreasonable constraint on the right to strike.
Of course the French approach is far more revolutionary. Often you strike first to show how much support you have and, if you are strong enough, you might persuade the employers to negotiate. Employers are so used to this way of behaving that they sometimes won’t even start to discuss a claim before there has been a strike, so the employees have a justification for their actions. In a couple of extreme cases workers have rigged up bombs in factories under threat of closure and threatened to blow them up in order to get a negotiation started.
In others, directors and managers have been held hostage in their offices, sometimes for several days.
Secondary picketing is still legal in France and even workers from different industries come out in support if the case is sufficiently strong. I think that this confrontational approach has its roots in 1789 and the revolutions which followed right down to the near revolution of 1968.
After watching a performance of two very left wing former workers during the Story Telling Festival I asked my brother- in-law what to be sanctioned, ”ĂȘtre sanctionnĂ©”, meant in the context of industrial relations. He explained that it meant having some of your pay deducted. I found this difficult to understand, thinking it was some sort of fine but no, many French workers are paid while they are on strike and occasionally the employers decide to make an example of someone, or of a group, and not pay them while they are not working!
It is true however, as another French commentator said, that the economic growth in the UK over the last decade was fuelled by increased personal and public debt and that, like other countries in Europe, the debt now has to be paid back in terms of cutbacks in the public sector, tax rises and the reduction of personal spending!
As soon as Margaret Thatcher became convinced that the UK could be successful as a service economy, she allowed manufacturing industry to decline. But, following the financial crisis, the concept of a service based economy has been discredited. It was inevitable that de-regulation of the financial sector would lead to an explosion of financial products based on “funny money” and that freely available credit would lead to increased private debt. When you add to that the increased percentage of the gross national product now spent on public services, up from 39% when New Labour took over to 47% now, the diversion of resources away from productive industry becomes clearer.
France, although it is still a world class exporter of luxury goods and specialised food products, also has a declining manufacturing sector but without the service sector to compensate. Only Germany and a handful of other European countries are still competitively producing quality manufactured goods that people outside Europe want to buy.
At the time of writing this, under the UK constitution, it is the government in power which decides when to hold an election. Any coalition government will come under such powerful market pressures to apply stringent measures to control spending and reduce public debt, that it will become extremely unpopular. It will also have so many internal tensions that, in my opinion, it will not last.
I think that there will be another election in less than two years, whoever forms a government this weekend.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Panoramas of the Festival of Story Telling

Here are some panoramas which I took on the Randonnee Conte.  For the last ten years a local association called Arcade has been organising a week-long story telling festival in the area around Bretenoux.  On the first Sunday, which this year was the 18th April, they arranged an 8km long circular walk, starting from the 12th century tower at Teyssieu to Estal and back, with stories and music at various locations along the way.

Click on a link below to see each panorama on the swfcabin website, then click the Back button of your browser to return to the blog and select the next link.

These are big files and they take a long time to load on my 512k rural ADSL connection! If you don't have fast broadband be patient!

When the file has loaded you can pan, zoom and tilt with the buttons that pop-up when you mouse-over the bottom of the picture.
Try it, everyone I have shown these to thinks that they are great!

Not working? Get the Flash Player to see these flash movies.

Teyssieu - Le debut

Premier Conte

Jean Marc Derouen en pleine campagne     Esclat Musiciens     Michel Galaret - Magnol

Technical Note

The original photos were taken using a handheld Canon 450D with an 18-55mm lens. Each image overlaps generously with the next. The individual jpegs were assembled into one panoramic image using PTGui. and then cropped to a true rectangle in Photoshop Elements. This image was then loaded into Pano2VR to create the swf file, which was then uploaded to swfcabin .

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Chemotherapy Marks you for Life!

I went to see my doctor last week because I have an unusual spot which is not going away. He has referred me to a Dermatologue and I am waiting for the appointment in June.

During the consultation he was looking at my records on his computer (for a French doctor he is unusually up to date with technology) and he asked me if I was still having follow ups after the chemotherapy that I had twenty years ago for a seminoma. I said no, my oncologist had said that after ten years it was my choice and I decided not to continue with them. I added that there was no risk of metastases after twenty years. He then asked me what my profession used to be and it was only later that I realised that I had used a medical term that the general public would not know.

Chemotherapy is such a salient experience it marks you for life! If you are like me, you learn words that you never forget. I can still remember the names of all the cytotoxic drugs, which are poisons really, that were used to treat me. Cisplatin, Methotrexate, Bleomycin, Vincristine, Adriamycin, Cyclophosphamide, Etoposide. All of them make you ill in one way or another. Because their function is to kill rapidly dividing cells they also interrupt the production of blood cells so anaemia and neutrapenia (a lack of production of white blood cells) are common. The latter was worse than normal in my case because I had had radiotherapy on my abdomen before the chemotherapy, and the treatment killed a large proportion of my bone marrow. Luckily I was able to continue being treated even with very low white cell counts without catching infections. Nobody knew why this was and other patients at the Charing Cross Hospital on ward 6W were always having their treatments delayed. There, you see, I can still remember the number of the ward, and actually I can see it in my mind, together with some of the people I met there.

Some drugs have other side effects; Vincristine kills the extremities of the nerves so that after a few months you finish chemotherapy with feet that feel numb and it’s difficult to walk confidently. That takes about a year to go away completely! You lose all your hair and in those days you were always as sick as a dog after a treatment. Loss of appetite could last for days. When I was having chemotherapy various anti-emetics were given and one of the most effective was Lorazepam combined with Dexamethasone. The problem I had with it was that once it has really kicked in, the Lorazepam wipes your memory as well. Some of my fellow patients appreciated that, but I found it profoundly disturbing and refused it after a couple of occasions.

I volunteered to be part of a clinical trial of 5HT3 inhibitors, which are now used regularly, in conjunction with other drugs, to control nausea. They work very well and before he retired Professor Edward Newlands, my oncologist, said that since their introduction the experience of chemotherapy has been transformed. It certainly needed to be! By the end of five months of chemotherapy I was desperate for the treatments to finish so that I could begin to feel well again and get on with my life! I started working again about three weeks after I finished the last treatment. In spite of a short holiday in Morocco I still looked like a ghost, extremely pale, thin and with a few millimetres of soft grey hair. My appearance shocked some of my colleagues but I soon recovered!

So here’s hoping that the spot is nothing serious!

I went to the Dermatologue on 9th June and the tiny spot on the bridge of my nose is a cancer but fortunately it is very slow growing type and not one that spreads.  When I go to have it removed in Early September I will ask for the correct name.  Interestingly he would not have used the word cancer if I hadn't asked a direct question.  Perhaps he doesn't want to worry people unnecessarily!
I wonder what the statistics are for having two types of cancer in your life?