Big Sur Bus


I took this photo on a recent trip to Carmel,  Several years ago, we rented a cabin in the Big Sur woods and hiked for several days.  We were fortunate that the weather was so clear and dry.  Hoping to do it again next year.

Crossing Lines

Crossing Lines

I recently watched on old Jack Nicholson and Harvey Keitel movie, The Border. The theme song, written by Freddie Fender, is a tutorial on ethics and not crossing lines. It made me recall times clients asked me to cross lines. What helped me was my parents were honest people and I know that everyone has a price and I was able never allow myself to be in a position where I learned mine. During my lifetime, I have not tarnished my family name. Here are the lyrics:
“There’s a land where I’ve been told
Every street is paved with gold
And it’s just across the borderline
When it’s time to take your turn
Here’s a lesson that you must learn
You could lose more than you’ll ever find
When you reach the broken promise land
Every dream slips through your hand
You’ll know it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you’ve paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline
Up and down the Rio Grande
A thousand footprints in the sand
Reveal the secret no one can define
The river flows on like a breath
In between our life and death
Who’s the next to cross the borderline
Hope remains when pride is gone
And it keeps you moving on
Calling you across the borderline
When you reach the broken promise land
Every dream slips through your hand
You’ll know it’s too late to change your mind
And you’re still just across the borderline
And you’re still just across the borderline.

Automotive Developments

British cable firm HellermannTyton snapped up in drive for intelligent cars
US car part maker Delphi Automotive pays £1.1bn for HellermannTyton as it seeks to capitalise on growing trend for vehicles that connect to the web
Cable wiring
HellermannTyton manufactures products for fastening, fixing and protecting cables
Sean Farrell

A US-listed car parts maker is paying £1.1bn to buy HellermannTyton, a British manufacturer of cable equipment, as it seeks to capitalise on the growing trend in intelligent vehicles.

Delphi Automotive said it expects HellermannTyton, which makes products for fastening, fixing, and protecting cables, to help it take advantage of increasing demand for vehicles that connect to the web and smart devices such as phones and tablets.

Delphi said it would pay 480p in cash for each Hellermann share. The price is 44% more than Hellermann’s closing share price on Wednesday. Hellermann’s shares rose 42% to 472p.

Delphi is based in Gillingham, Kent, but its shares are listed in New York. It makes electronic components for motor vehicles, including safety systems that detect hazards, and employs more than 20,000 people.

Hellermann, based in Manchester, employs 3,800 people globally. In the UK it employs 700 people and its main factories are in Manchester and Plymouth.

Delphi said it expected to save $50m (£32m) a year by the end of 2018 by cutting purchasing costs and making its supply chain more efficient. It said that after the deal was completed it would review overlapping operations, including Hellermann’s distribution network.

Delphi said the deal would give it more products to capitalise on the “megatrend” for connected cars and opportunities to expand in Hellermann’s other sectors such as aerospace and defence.

New safety and anti-pollution rules are forcing cars to become more intelligent so engines are fuel efficient and vehicles can better perform semi-automated taskssuch as accident avoidance and cruise control. Cars increasingly rely on multiple computer systems to operate and become safer by responding to what is around them. The move towards intelligent cars is expected to lead to vehicles that drive themselves more safely then human beings.

The deal is the latest in a spate of mergers and acquisitions as companies seek new markets and products to spur growth. Takeovers worth $5bn or more totalled a record $1.13tn in the first half of this year, fuelled by a boom in the US.

Apart from Shell’s blockbuster £47bn acquisition of BG Group, merger activity in the UK has been more muted. Also on Thursday, Chime Communications, a sports marketing company, said it was in talks to sell itself for almost £350m to WPP, the world’s biggest advertising company, and US buyout firm Providence Equity Partners.

Kevin Clark, Delphi’s chief executive, said: “With consumers now demanding more connectivity in their vehicles, electrical architecture is the enabler to that added vehicle content. By leveraging the combined capabilities of both companies, we will be able to capitalise on additional growth opportunities and create significant value for our customers and shareholders.”

The Music of Science


The Music of Science: what links the depths of the ocean to the hearts of dying stars? A tiny bit of iron—and not just any old iron. Oliver Morton explains

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2015

There is a wind that blows from the heart of dying stars, a wind so strong that it reshapes the atoms in its path and drives them out as spindrift into space. This storm-tossed spray spreads out across the galaxy, filling the space between stars. And it settles on everything. It falls on the other stars, and on the nurseries where stars are born. It falls on comets and planets. It falls into puddles. It falls into oceans. And there it settles.

The information that sediments on the ocean floor provide about the history of the Earth has been a source of insight for decades; cores drilled from sea floors around the world were fundamental to the acceptance, in the 1970s, of the modern theory of the ice ages. But more recently, the sediments have started to attract people looking for a record of goings-on farther afield—such as in supernovae. All chemical elements other than hydrogen, helium and a little bit of lithium, which were made in the Big Bang, are produced by nuclear reactions that go on in stars. Some, like carbon and oxygen, are made throughout a star’s life; others come into being only at the end. Many of the atoms thus made last for ever. Some, though, are radioactive, and decay.

Hence the excitement when, in 1999, a team of German scientists published an analysis of a rock sample brought up from the sea floor near Mona Pihoa in the South Pacific. It was not any old rock; it was coated in a ferromanganese crust, a chemical precipitate that had grown very slowly and steadily over a very very long time. Every million years, the crust had got a few millimetres thicker. Analysing this crust, the scientists showed that a bit of it which was about 3m years old contained a measurable amount of iron-60—measurable, that is, if you had instruments capable of distinguishing one atom out of a thousand trillion.

Even this tiniest trace of iron-60 was remarkable. By rights the Earth should have none at all. Iron-60 has a half life of 2.6m years, which means that if you had started off with a kilo of the stuff 2.6m years ago you would now have just 500 grams. If you had started out with a kilo 190m years ago—that is, back among the dinosaurs—then you would now have a single atom. This rate of decay means that none of the iron-60 that the Earth acquired at the time of its formation, 4.5 billion years ago, is still around, and that the iron-60 in that ocean-floor rock must have had an unearthly source. Iron-60 is formed in tiny amounts by cosmic rays hitting the Earth—but it is also formed in copious amounts in supernovae. One exploding star can produce a mass of iron-60 six times that of the Earth. A relatively close supernova a few million years ago would have delivered enough iron-60 to the Pacific—and to the oceans and puddles of every other planet within a hundred light years or so—to explain the signal in the deep-sea crust.

The rate at which supernovae create isotopes other than iron-60 depends on processes which, with no supernovae nearby to observe, scientists can only model—or approximate with particle accelerators. By seeking out the abundances of these yet rarer materials in appropriate rocks, some of the scientists working in the area think it may be possible to say more precisely what really goes on in supernovae. From that they might be able to work out whether there are some ele­ments that supernovae cannot make, and which must instead be formed in yet more esoteric catastrophes, such as the merger of two neutron stars.

A recent study by Anton Wallner and colleagues, many of whom were involved in the iron-60 work, looked for plutonium-244 in similar deep-sea rocks and found, more or less, none. The work suggests—though these are early days—that supernovae may indeed not be able to produce the range of elements previously thought. This may have impli­cations for science’s view of the origin of the solar system. If it were to turn out that some of the heavier elements found in the Earth could only have been made by a collision between neutron stars, it might mean that the Earth is a rarer sort of planet than had been thought. That could have implications for the likelihood of life elsewhere.

This sort of work would still delight, though, even if it turned out to have no bearing on such matters. The links between physics that plays out on the largest scale, that of the cosmos as a whole, and the smallest, that of the fundamental particles studied at CERN and elsewhere, are well rehearsed. No science magazine or mind-stretching television series is complete if it does not include the idea that there are connections between cosmology and particle physics that provide fundamental insights into the universe. The astronomical and the geological are not quite as disparate in scale, and their links not as conceptually deep; accordingly, perhaps, they get less play. But I can’t help thinking their specificity may make these connections, if less profound, no less wonderful—and possibly more so. That humans should find a rock that grows a few millimetres every million years and tease from a scant handful of its atoms the secrets of a dying star does as much to make the world a richer place as anyone could ask.

Oliver Morton is briefings editor for The Economist and the author of “Eating the Sun”

Illustration Pete Gamlen

Benedict Cumberbatch



The Visual CV: a character actor for years, Benedict Cumberbatch is very much a star now. Nicholas Barber picks out his best moments

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2013

2004 Stephen Hawking in Hawking

With the name Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch, you have to learn to pronounce long words early on in life. Maybe that’s why, when he was cast in his first big television role, Cumberbatch could handle the most tongue-twisting quantum mechanics lectures with unruffled authority. The BBC’s excellent biopic also showcased his deft physicality, and let us glimpse the boyish warmth which he’s since kept in reserve, just in case the right rom-com script comes along.

2006 Patrick Watts in Starter For Ten

In his film debut, adapted from David Nicholls’s novel, Cumberbatch is surrounded by rising stars, both male (James McAvoy, James Corden) and female (Rebecca Hall, Alice Eve), but he’s funnier than all of them. Anyone who saw his priggish quiz-team martinet might have seen a sparkling future for him as the next John Cleese. But, with his wide-apart eyes and piscine mouth, who would have bet that he’d become a leading man?

2007 Paul Marshall in Atonement

A year on from “Starter for Ten”, Cumberbatch was still well below James McAvoy on the cast list (his name doesn’t appear on either DVD box), and again he was a bullying buffoon with just a handful of scenes. This time, though, it was no laughing matter. He plays Ian McEwan’s predatory villain—who happens to be an old Harrovian, like Cumberbatch himself. There is no more detailed or authentic portrait of skin-crawling unpleasantness in recent cinema.

2010-14 Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock (above)

Steven Moffat’s and Mark Gatiss’s Conan Doyle update shouldn’t have worked. Sort of Victorian and sort of contemporary, usually ludicrous yet often earnest, it needed a Holmes whose laser-beam intensity would force us to take his deductions seriously, but whose clowning would reassure us that it was OK to giggle, too. Cumberbatch fitted the bill and became a star—helped, no doubt, by the piercing eyes and the clenched-fist cheekbones which left legions of fans happy to call themselves Cumberbitches.

2011 The Creature in Frankenstein

Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller took turns to play Frankenstein and his patchwork progeny in Danny Boyle’s National Theatre extravaganza—a dry run for the opening ceremony at the Olympics. A cruelly cerebral scientist was hardly a stretch for Cumberbatch. But his balletic interpretation of the creature was a revelation, a feat of rubber-limbed mime artistry which showed why he was picked to do the motion-capture, as well as the voices, for two baddies in Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit”.

2012 Christopher Tietjens in Parade’s End

Through five hours of torrid period drama, Cumberbatch committed himself to a facial contortion nobody should try at home: jaw jutting forward, chin hoicked downwards, fleshy lower lip furled underneath stiff upper one. But enough about his LAMDA-honed precision. His doggedly honourable Tietjens, unfurling sentences by Ford Madox Ford and Tom Stoppard, put viewers through the wringer, even as he held his own emotions tightly in check.

2013 Khan/John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness

Casting the world’s palest man as a character named Khan Noonien Singh was always going to be contentious, but even diehard Trekkies were won over by Cumberbatch’s sneer in human form. He is Hollywood’s dream antagonist: a classically trained Englishman who can deliver reams of expository techno-babble with the purring menace of a soliloquy from “Macbeth”. And, unlike Jeremy Irons or Alan Rickman, he looks as if he could beat most heroes to a pulp.

2014 Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate

A first lead role on the big screen—a spooky impression of Mr WikiLeaks, Aussie twang and all—adds to his collection of slimy brain-boxes and terrible haircuts. Next he plays a slave-owner in Steve McQueen’s award-winning “12 Years a Slave”, Meryl Streep’s put-upon nephew in “August: Osage County”, and Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”. On the set of “Sherlock”, Cumberbatch has also been busy fending off the paparazzi, holding up scrawled signs instructing the fourth estate to “photograph Egypt and show the world something important”. So either his message gets out or they leave him alone. Smart.

Nicholas Barber writes for the Independent on Sunday. He has recently written for The Editors’ Blog about the Motion Picture Association of America’s bad ratings and why actress Olivia Wilde might be too attractive

A Memorial for PD James


~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, May 5th 2015

P.D. JAMES    1999

Beautiful liturgies and an atmosphere of real belief don’t always go hand in hand. But last Wednesday evening, at a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of P.D. James, they were perfectly interwoven. The Temple Church in London felt like a 12th-century stone ship riding on waves of April blossom; the choir was celestial, the readings profoundly moving. And at the heart of it all was a sense of collective gratitude for what Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, described during the service as “a long life lived in tumultuous times”—a life sustained by what P.D. James herself called “the magnificent irrationality of faith”.

“The queen of crime” not only worshipped regularly in the Temple Church, but also preached there. I wish I could have heard her. I remember an evening at the Royal Society when she confounded a group of scientists by insisting, firmly, on the existence of God. Her beliefs ran through her like words through a stick of rock, carrying her through the strict, gaslit childhood which she once described as “a period of almost continual anxiety”, and the loss of her mother and later her husband to mental illness. She understood sadness, and menace, but she also believed firmly in what Chartres called “the grace that can and does transform people”.

For anyone who knew Phyllis at all, the service would not have rung true without a good leavening of humour. On several occasions the pews rocked with laughter. Chartres, who had first “fallen under her spell” on a Prayer Book Society outing, was clear that even her faith could be a source of amusement. She made no bones about her dismay at modern translations of the Bible. “There was, thank God,” she wrote of her childhood home, “no Good News Bible—a version that is very bad news for anyone who loves either religion or literature.” She believed that the bureaucracy of the Church of England would be terrifying—“if it were efficient”.

Humour, in Phyllis, was closely allied to a sense of irony; and irony is perhaps the best foil to self-pity, which she conspicuously lacked. Yet, though tough-minded, she was long on kindness. Stephen Page, who runs her publisher Faber and Faber, remembered the huge personal support she had given him when, in 2011, Faber was rocked by the murder of one of its staff. (Visiting her in her Holland Park home, he said, he felt like a schoolboy spending a weekend with a favourite aunt. She was forever urging him to “eat up!”)

At murder, of course, Phyllis excelled. Page remembered how she liked to write the darkest stretches of her novels in a very dim light. But what drew her to crime was not ghoulishness or prurience, but what she called “the catharsis of carefully controlled terror”.

Phyllis was 94 when she died in November; most of those closest to her had gone before. Yet the church on Wednesday was packed. It was a measure of her appetite and gratitude for life that she continued to make new friends right to the end. One of these was my mum, whom she used to ring for chats, and with whom she corresponded. “I wish we lived closer so that I might occasionally be able to see you,” she wrote in her last letter. She’d just celebrated her birthday, with four generations present. “How thankful I am for all these blessings.”

Maggie Fergusson is literary editor of Intelligent Life, director of the Royal Society of Literature, and the biographer of George Mackay Brown

Image Rex


The Magic of the Gravity Assist


IN MusicOScience_470
The Music of Science: a spaceprobe passing a planet gets the cheapest of all possible lunches. Oliver Morton hitches a ride

From INTELLIGENT LIFE March/April 2015

It will be the most far-flung rendezvous in history—and the end of the most taxing uphill trip ever made. On Bastille Day 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spaceprobe will reach Pluto after a slog of more than 5 billion kilometres, with the sun’s gravity pulling against it every step of the way. That such a trip is possible at all is remarkable. That it could be managed in less than a decade is a tribute both to the most brute force and the most subtle calculation.

First the force. As interplanetary missions go, this is a small one, weighing half a tonne. But when it was launched in January 2006, it was sitting on top of one of America’s largest rockets, an Atlas V. The launcher burned more than a tonne of rocket fuel and oxygen for every kilo of the craft’s mass. As a result New Horizons headed off to Pluto faster than any previous space mission: 45km a second. Puck boasted that he could put a girdle round the Earth in 40 minutes. At that rate New Horizons could have done it in 14.

The need for speed was simple; as the probe headed to the solar system’s outer edge, the centring sun pulled it back. Its gravity was not so strong as to bring the spacecraft to a halt—New Horizons will be the fifth human spacecraft to leave the system entirely—but it was enough to slow it down, draining away the kinetic energy the mighty Atlas had given it at lift-off day by day. By the time it reached Jupiter, about a year later, New Horizons had lost more than half its initial speed.

This is where the cleverness came in. Jupiter did not just provide a target on which New Horizons could test its cameras and other instruments. It also sped it back up. This pick-me-up, known as a gravity-assist manoeuvre, knocked five years off the time taken to get to Pluto. And unlike the Earth-shaking, sky-splitting $200m-or-more expense of an Atlas launch, it needed no fuel and no money.

Gravity assists are a beautiful example of the conservation of momentum, one of the most fundamental ideas of Newtonian mechanics: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When a spacecraft swings past a planet, the pull of the planet’s gravity changes its momentum so that it ends up moving not just in a different direction, but also faster than before. Because Newton, God and all other relevant authorities insist there should be no such thing as a free lunch, the speeding up of the spacecraft is balanced by a slowing down of the planet. But because momentum depends on mass as well as velocity, the slowing of the planet is smaller than the quickening of the spacecraft to the exact extent that the one outweighs the other, and that makes the lunch pretty remarkably cheap. Since New Horizons weighs less than a car and Jupiter weighs 300 times as much as the Earth, the planet’s lost momentum is as close to imperceptible as you can get. Fly a momentum-pinching New Horizons past Jupiter every day for a billion years and you would only slow the planet down by two millimetres a second.

The brute force of rockets has been known for centuries, and the idea of using them to visit other worlds has a heritage that stretches back at least as far as Cyrano de Bergerac. The subtlety of gravity assists is a more recent romance. It was discussed by a few enthusiasts early in the 20th century, but the first person to become deeply enthused by it was Michael Minovitch, a physicist at JPL, the Californian lab that has handled most of NASA’s planetary exploration, in the 1960s. At a time when most in the fledgling field of astrogation treated the gravitational influences of other planets as a problem to be minimised, Minovitch saw that, with the right geometry, you could use such perturbations to find quicker or more fuel-efficient routes to any of the planets bar Venus (too close). Working obsessively at night, in little contact with his colleagues, he came up with trajectory after trajectory, including the “grand-tour” approaches that used a gravity assist from Jupiter to get to Saturn, one from Saturn to get to Uranus and one from Uranus to get to Neptune.

Minovitch saw himself as inventing a whole new type of space travel. He didn’t see that less zealous colleagues could come up with the same solutions even if ignorant of all that he had done (the grand-tour orbits were discovered by someone else independently). He felt he was being written out of history; he left JPL and threatened to sue it.

To Minovitch the gravity assist was an invention to be owned. To most people it was a discovery which, once made, was just a fact about the world. It is not an uncommon tension in science. There is a time when only one mind has had an idea, at least as far as that mind knows; then there is a time when everyone thinks it. There is something wonderful about both, but the path between them is all too often strewn with arguments about priority and plagiarism, its trajectories and turnabouts far less satisfactory than the routes around the planets.

Although gravity assists are now standard, finding a truly clever new trajectory, or one that lets you use a smaller rocket for the same mission, remains a creative and satisfying act whether an invention or a discovery. Some astrogators will see their trajectories as cunning ways of outsmarting the limits that the sheer scale of space missions would otherwise impose, others as nature itself offering a helping hand. Either way, their existence makes the vast mechanism of the solar system just that bit more accessible to explorers—a little more quirky, a tad more user-friendly, a touch more like home.

Oliver Morton is briefings editor for The Economist and the author of “Eating the Sun”

Illustration Pete Gamlen



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