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The other day I found myself killing time in Chatswood waiting for my car to be serviced. A long stay in a coffee shop seemed a good option but I would need something to read - not too heavy. In a bookshop I found the latest Dan Brown: Origin. Dan might not be le Carré but like Lee Child and Clive Cussler he's a fast and easy read.

A quick flick told me Professor Langdon was on yet another wild-goose-chase around the real churches; art galleries; palaces and tombs of Europe (in this case Spain), with another beautiful yet somehow unattainable woman. In that respect the good professor is not a James Bond nor even Jason Bourne.

I won't be giving much away by telling those of you who have not read Origin that the plot rests on a billionaire computer geek's pre-recorded 'proofs' that: life arises spontaneously as a result of the natural laws of this universe; and that with increasing intervention of technology humans are evolving - so that in a relatively short time our descendants will cease to be human.

While the thwarted multimedia presentation of these 'proofs' to the world makes for a fast paced thriller as the the bodies pile up, the presentation's eventual revelations turn out to be disappointingly mundane. 

Last century I began writing my essay for my then young children: The Meaning of Life in which both of the "breathtaking truths" (referred to on the back cover of Origin) are discussed as current ideas - two decades ago.  See the chapters on Life (particularly in respect of entropy) and Evolution (particularly in respect of technology).

So Origin is not very original. Well, what did readers expect?  This is a popular thriller not a paradigm changing scientific paper or a theological revelation (perhaps as a result of a new Marian Apparition?).

 

Post Script

Since writing this commentary the scientific world has been taken aback by the announcement a young scientist, He Jiankui, at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, that he had successfully used the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR to edit a gene in several children.  Two girls, twins, have been born and are thriving and another gene-edited baby is on the way.   Thus Human evolution has been given a small shove forward and what is now just a trickle may become a flood.

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Travel

USA - middle bits

 

 

 

 

 

In September and October 2017 Wendy and I took another trip to the United States where we wanted to see some of the 'middle bits'.  Travel notes from earlier visits to the East coast and West Coast can also be found on this website.

For over six weeks we travelled through a dozen states and stayed for a night or more in 20 different cities, towns or locations. This involved six domestic flights for the longer legs; five car hires and many thousands of miles of driving on America's excellent National Highways and in between on many not so excellent local roads and streets.

We had decided to start in Chicago and 'head on down south' to New Orleans via: Tennessee; Georgia; Louisiana; and South Carolina. From there we would head west to: Texas; New Mexico; Arizona; Utah and Nevada; then to Los Angeles and home.  That's only a dozen states - so there are still lots of 'middle bits' left to be seen.

During the trip, disaster, in the form of three hurricanes and a mass shooting, seemed to precede us by a couple of days.

The United States is a fascinating country that has so much history, culture and language in common with us that it's extremely accessible. So these notes have turned out to be long and could easily have been much longer.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The McKie Family

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 

This is the story of the McKie family down a path through the gardens of the past that led to where I'm standing.  Other paths converged and merged as the McKies met and wed and bred.  Where possible I've glimpsed backwards up those paths as far as records would allow. 

The setting is Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England and my path winds through a time when the gardens there flowered with exotic blooms and their seeds and nectar changed the entire world.  This was the blossoming of the late industrial and early scientific revolution and it flowered most brilliantly in Newcastle.

I've been to trace a couple of lines of ancestry back six generations to around the turn of the 19th century. Six generations ago, around the turn of the century, lived sixty-four individuals who each contributed a little less 1.6% of their genome to me, half of them on my mother's side and half on my father's.  Yet I can't name half a dozen of them.  But I do know one was called McKie.  So this is about his descendents; and the path they took; and some things a few of them contributed to Newcastle's fortunes; and who they met on the way.

In six generations, unless there is duplication due to copulating cousins, we all have 126 ancestors.  Over half of mine remain obscure to me but I know the majority had one thing in common, they lived in or around Newcastle upon Tyne.  Thus they contributed to the prosperity, fertility and skill of that blossoming town during the century and a half when the garden there was at its most fecund. So it's also a tale of one city.

My mother's family is the subject of a separate article on this website. 

 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Whither Peak Oil

 

 

The following paper was written back in 2007.  Since that time the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) struck and oil prices have not risen as projected.  But we are now hearing about peak oil again and there have been two programmes on radio and TV in the last fortnight floating the prospect of peak oil again. 

At the end of 2006 the documentary film A Crude Awakening warned that peak oil, ‘the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum production is reached, after which the rate of production enters its terminal decline’, is at hand. 

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