Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The First Documented Labyrinth 最初の記録された迷宮

“...they decided to leave a common memorial of their reigns, and for this purpose constructed a labyrinth a little above Lake Moeris, near the place called the City of Crocodiles. I have seen this building, and it is beyond my power to describe... The pyramids, too, are astonishing structures, each one of them equal to many of the most ambitious works of Greece; but the labyrinth surpasses them. It has six covered courts – six in a row facing north, six south – the gates of one range exactly fronting the gates of another, with a continuous wall round the outside of the whole. Inside, the building is of two storeys and contains three thousand rooms, of which half are underground, and the other half directly above them... the underground ones I can speak of only from report, because the Egyptians in charge refused to let me see them, as they contained the tombs of the kings who built the labyrinth, and also the tombs of the sacred crocodiles. The upper rooms, on the contrary, I did actually see, and it is hard to believe that they are the work of men; the baffling and intricate passages from room to room and from court to court were an endless wonder to me, as we passed from a courtyard into rooms, from rooms into galleries, from galleries into more rooms, and thence into yet more courtyards. The roof of every chamber, courtyard, and gallery is, like the walls, of stone. The walls are covered with carved figures, and each court is exquisitely built of white marble and surrounded by a colonnade...”


“...others, again, assert that it was a building dedicated to the Sun-god...”

“...in addition it must contain temples of all the gods of Egypt and forty statues of Nemesis in the same number of sacred shrines, as well as numerous pyramids... banquet halls reached by steep ascents, flights of ninety steps leading down form the porticoes, porphyritic columns, figures of gods and hideous monsters, and statues of kings. Some of the palaces are so made that the opening of a door makes a terrifying sound as of thunder. Most of the buildings are in total darkness...”

~the Roman writer, Pomponius Mela

Monday, 24 May 2010

屋久島 Yakushima

Man, I've been so damn busy recently, packing up my house, seeing buddies for last drinks, getting ready to go back to Blighty: hardly any time to myself. Deciding then to go on a hiking holiday last week to Yakushima was probably not such a great idea. Writing this blog entry, even, kind of makes me feel guilty. Boxes don't pack themselves. The gas company won't cut my gas if I don't tell them to (well, except those times I kept forgetting to pay the bills...). And somebody has to dump my mama-chari somewhere, before it's too late.

But anyway, back to the topic of Yakushima. What a fan-dabby-doozy place. Really beautiful island, sweet people, and superb food. Without going into details (and I really could, it was such a cool place, so many memorable encounters, mini-adventures, monkeys...) I post below some photos from the trip. Enjoy, and if you have the time, go yourself.

Some flying fish tempura, a local delicacy. All gravy, baby.

Old G Dawg is not just a pretty face. He hiked for a day just to get to this tree. A lover of mankind, he benevolently flashed a peace sign to the crowds, and then hiked all the way back. The tree in question is called the Jomon Sugi, so called because it is believed to be super old, dating from the Jomon period. It's 25 meters tall, and 16 meters around. It has a soul, too, according to locals.
Some more pictures of Old Jomon, sans Old G Dawg. They do little justice to the majesty of the real thing. You should go and see it for yourself.
Mrs G Dawg made claim of everything she saw.

According to travel guides, Yakushima and its primaeval forests gave Hayao Miyazaki the inspiration for the settings in his movie Princess Mononoke. Certainly, that is plain to see. The hiking trail he sites in particular is the Shiratani trail, and it is perhaps the most beautiful on the island. I can't help but feel, however, that though he may have found Shiratani more beautiful, he may have been influenced more by the path leading to the Jomon Sugi. A good half of the trail follows an abandoned railway, used in its day by a forestry company, who still, incidentally, own the area. It occurred to me that this plain evidence of man's activity, and his abandoned attempt to subdue nature, may have struck a chord with Miyazaki. Also, too, half-way along the tracks, are the remains of a school, deserted in 1970. All that is left is an ivy-covered staircase leading to nowhere. Ghostly, indeed, and beautiful. No doubt I am jumping to conclusions, but I find it hard to believe something so Miyazakiesque (otherworldly ancient remains, signs of a now gone culture and age (Spirited Away, Laputa, Princess Mononoke...)) would not have made an impression on him. I wish I had taken photographs, but the rain prevented me at the time.

Friday, 7 May 2010

An Exchange on the Merits of Mathematics vs. Mechanical Engineering as a Degree Choice, between Cousin James & Your Humble Servant

Cousin James
02 May at 02:33
Hey George could you give me your thoughts and views on doing a maths degree? Because I'm still undecided. I'm contemplating a 75% maths degree with management or economics. A possibility is Mech eng.
Your views would be helpful.

G Dawg
03 May at 01:42
Maths is a hard degree, whichever way you look at it. Only do it if you are: a) a natural mathematician, b) in love with the subject, or c) both. If you possess neither of these qualities, then you are in for a miserable three or four years. That said, a maths degree puts you in a really good position job-wise when you graduate, so it might be worth the pain.
Personally speaking, I suppose I would have come under class 'c)' from above (definitely more b) than a) however), though I can't say I loved every second of my time at university. The work-load was tough and there were times when I wished I'd done something different. Still, I got through it, and I wouldn't change my decision if I were able to make it again.
On a different tack, I suppose I should say that there are a million reasons why someone might study maths at university, and perhaps I've been too black and white in the matter. At the end of the day if you want to study it, do so, and if you are hesitant then perhaps you should think again.
Also, dude, there's really no need to rush. If you don't know what you want to do, keep thinking. Pick up a book, surf the internet, talk to friends, whatever. Hell, if you want to, take another year to think it over. I mean, at the end of the day, it's your life, right?
Hope I've been helpful. Any more questions, fire away.

Cousin James
04 May at 04:36
Thank You very much for your advice, George. It as been insightful.
Do you know anything about Mechanical Engineering, like how mathsy it is, and how respected it is with Employers?
And could you tell me what you got in your degree?

G Dawg
06 May at 18:07
Mechanical Engineering is so incredibly mathsy that I would go so far as to say it is maths. Of course, it is not the whole of maths, though I suppose nothing is. I took myself a lot of engineering courses and I found them to be very interesting, and in terms of difficulty, some people find them a lot easier than the more abstract courses one has to do as part of a maths degree (like Analysis of Imaginary Numbers, Logic, or Number Theory). I mean, even though the courses are just as rigorous and difficult mathematically, they are far easier to relate to. It is the maths of how things move in the world (or in theoretical spaces, most commonly, a vacuum with constant gravity), from air to water to particles to clouds and so on. The movements of the planets might also be covered. Of course, since I did my courses as part of a maths degree, it is natural that my studies were all done with pen and paper, entirely theoretically. In a mechanical engineering degree, I imagine you would have to complete quite a few practical courses as well as the theoretical ones. Designing and building an efficient motor which can run on canola oil or some such thing... I can only guess. I myself contemplated doing an engineering degree but in the end it was maths which charmed me, with its theories and its aura of philosophy. Of the people who end up studying engineering, one hears tales of children dismantling car engines and putting them back together; or building small model steam trains &c. I found the engineering lot to be the kind of people who love cars and boats and planes and things (though, of course, there are always exceptions... Like I said, people study different subjects for all kinds of reasons...). And I would go so far as to say that a Mechanical Engineering degree is quite possibly more respected with employees than a normal maths one. You see, it is actually something one can use in the real world. It would give you a very solid base to go into almost any industry. Banking? No problem. The stock exchange? Cool. And countless other industries, too, no doubt.
I myself got a 2:1 for my degree, so not bad. A 2:2 is the absolute minimum you must aim for.
Just a thought, but have you considered computer science as a degree choice? I would heartily recommend it as a useful and interesting degree, and one suited to a person with a mathematical mind. I studied a bit of computation for my degree and I found it fascinating stuff.
So there we have it. Hope this helps. Sorry I'm a little late in replying, I've been away in the countryside for the past three days.
Genetalius Dawg-breath