Provincial Letters

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

My Photo
Location: Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

My star sign in Superstition. And I didn't believe in reincarnation last time, either. The only thing I can't tolerate is intolerance. I am a fanatical ant-fanaticist. I am bigotted only where bigots are concerned. I am a fundamentalist atheist. I'm proud to be a product of evolution; I know it in my genes.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Posted @ 20:50351 Years

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

So I wrote as the description of this blog when I started it, just over 2 years ago; however, it was 351 years ago today that the inspiration for the title — if not the tone of the content — of this blog first appeared. It begins:

Paris, January 23, 1656
We were entirely mistaken. It was only yesterday that I was undeceived. Until that time I had laboured under the impression that the disputes in the Sorbonne were vastly important, and deeply affected the interests of religion. The frequent convocations of an assembly so illustrious as that of the Theological Faculty of Paris, attended by so many extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances, led one to form such high expectations that it was impossible to help coming to the conclusion that the subject was most extraordinary. You will be greatly surprised, however, when you learn from the following account the issue of this grand demonstration, which, having made myself perfectly master of the subject, I shall be able to tell you in very few words.

Blaise Pascal; Provincial Letter I

His basic observation is that seemingly illustrious and important organisations are often obsessed by the mundane, trivial and ridiculous. How things have changed.

You could do worse than read some of his letters — you may need some historical clues to get the fine nuances — as a celebration of this day. They're all available on-line at Oregon State University, amongst other places.

Raise a glass to M. Pascal and celebrate the Provincial over the Metropolitan — these people in the big cities think themselves so important.

I had intended to celebrate the occasion with an updated version of Provincial Letter I but I find that I am incapable of achieving the correct tone or sufficient expertise with prose. But, we cannot let the event pass unnoticed or unrecognised.

It is probably timely to extend my apologies to all those serious students of the Provincial Letters who find this site through Google searches and wonder if it's at all relevant to their subject. I wish it could be.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Posted @ 18:46Lies, Damned Lies & Advertising

There's currently an advertisement on British TV for some optician service or other — I can't be bothered to remember which — which claims our eyes process "more than 24 million images in our lifetimes" (or words to that effect). This afternoon, for some reason or other, I wondered what that meant. So I did a little calculation.

Let's assume that the average human life is 70 years and that a year is exactly 365 days long. This equates (do the arithmetic!) to 36,792,000 minutes of life. Therefore, the advertisement claims our eyes only process one image approximately every 1½ minutes. This seems a little slow and implies we must have our eyes shut most of the time.

The advertisement doesn't say that we remember more that 24 million images, just that our eyes process them. It appears that the advertisement says our eyes are limited to processing one image every 90 seconds. Now, think, most films display images at the rate of 24 frames per second, which — taken together with the advertiser's claim — implies that our eyes only process one in 2,160 frames whilst watching a film. Is this credible?

Consequently, it seems obvious that the advertiser's claim is strictly correct: our eyes do process more than 24 million images in our lifetime. But how many more? Ten more? A hundred more? A thousand more? A million more?

Firstly, we need to know how fast the human eye works, how many images per second it can process. The answer to this question is not simple and a full discussion can be found at (which is very worthwhile reading). As this excellent article points out, it's not simply a case of asking how fast the individual receptor cells (rods and cones) of the eye work, since the eye is a complex of these cells and they work together to process the image.

Tests with Air Force pilots have shown that for very bright images — images flashed onto a black background in a dark room — the human eye (together with the human brain) can recognise images of less than 0.005 seconds duration. That's a frame rate of 200 per second. Other considerations show that our perception of some sort of flashing only goes away when the frame rate exceeds 500 per second. That would equate to one image every 0.002 seconds. But that's the extreme.

Let's be very conservative about this and only assume that our eyes can achieve a resolution of one image every 0.01 seconds (a frame rate of 100 per second). This would mean our eyes would process 220,752,000,000 images in a 70 year lifetime. That's over 220 billion images. Yes, it's "more than 24 million". By a factor of approximately 10,000. And, consider, if we were to take the extreme value of 500 frames per second, the total would be five times larger — over a trillion images (and, it's worth remembering, this is the cognitive processing of the eye plus brain system, not that of the — mechanical — eye alone, which is likely to be larger).

Now let's complete the sums. The claim was "more than 24 million images in a lifetime". How many more? Conservatively, 220,728,000,000 more. One feels that the advertiser should really claim "more than 200 billion images in a lifetime" — that would be just a little more realistic and truthful, wouldn't it?

Imagine you and I are looking at a field of cows and you ask me how many there are. Let's say there's 50 cows in the field. What would be your reaction if I said there were "more than 5" cows in the field? You might well consider me a little strange or deranged. And that answer's only a factor of 10 less than the real number, only 10% of the true value. The advertiser's claim is 0.01% of the true value. Yes, I admit, their claim is not false, but it's certainly misleading; and, in the circumstances — considering it took me a little over an hour to research and write this post, considerably less than the production time for a TV advertisement — a damned lie.

Correction Note: Forgot Something

As, Seany has so excellently pointed out, the above calculations assumed we are awake all the time. Assuming we sleep for one-third of our lives, the total images now becomes only 165,564,000,000 which is only 6,898.5 times the quoted figure. And, to recalculate the remaining figures: the actual number is only 165,540,000,000 more than 24,000,000; 24,000,000 is still about 0.01% of 165,564,000,000. Oh, and the quoted 24,000,000 equates to, approximately, 1 image per minute (which would mean we only see one frame of a film in every 1,440 frames). Hope that clears it up.

And, to clear up the "blink" factor that Seany mentions in his comment, we would have to blink at an astonishing rate to bring down these figures in any significant quantity.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Posted @ 18:57Anonymous Comments

Recently, there have been a couple of anonymous comments (see "Headlines 2014 III" and "International News - Special Edition") to posts on this blog. These are really anonymous because the author hasn't bothered to sign their name, as most commentators do when posting comments uses the [Anonymous] option. These comments seem to be making some sort of anti-Darwinian, pro-Bush points (there's a remote possibility that the comments are intended to be humorous — for some strange value of "humour" — and I've missed the subtlety). It's not the opinions I object to so much as the cowardice of refusing to be identified (even so far as to be using an anonymous server — based in the US — with an IP address like 74.34.51.?).

I originally thought I'd threaten some sort of gratuitous censorship and henceforth ban all such posts (and delete them), but I really can't see the point: this would involve me making an effort. Quite honestly, I can't be bothered. Perhaps, if the author can be bothered to rectify the blatant anonymity, I will be bothered to indulge in a dialogue on the subject.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Posted @ 17:44Apology

Apologies to anyone who accidentally caught the pile of dingo's kidneys that I posted yesterday. The offending stream of self-pitying crap has been removed and normal service will be resumed soon.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Posted @ 00:14Headlines 2014 III

The saga continues...


With the government's announcement of new regulations on the contents of food, the NOCHEM organisation has claimed victory for "the humble consumer over the power of agribusiness and the food processing industry". The new regulations will require food manufacturers to remove all chemicals from food by 2020. NOCHEM has described the victory as a success for "the greatest consumer campaign ever".

From humble beginnings on — some would say — the lunatic fringe of political campaigning, NOCHEM has finally convinced the consumer that any chemical is bad for human beings. By convincing the man in the street that the claims by its detractors that "everything is made of chemicals so removing them from food would leave nothing" were just the special pleasing of materialists supporting outdated 19th Century scientific theories. As NOCHEM says, "They were just theories. Chemicals may seem to be everywhere, but they don't provide the nutrition in food. Nutrition is an innate, spiritual property of the universe. It doesn't need chemicals. Removing all the chemicals from food can only benefit the human race, not the least by making food easy to digest."

NOCHEM's strategy of encouraging hunger strikes outside supermarkets is believed to be a major factor in their success. The organisation's president, the 27-stone Gimme Cash — who has unselfishly consumed ordinary foods for many years in order to demonstrate how bad they are — paid tribute to these grass-root campaigners: "Their sacrifice will not be in vain. Their example has demonstrated that people can live for several weeks without chemicals in their food."


As the Glorious 21st approaches and serious, healthy citizens prepare their annual assaults on smokers, the Law Lords have ruled that it is "nor unfair" to use live ammunition against smokers. The judgement continued, "if smokers happen to get in the way of the live bullets fired in celebration by non-smokers, that is just an accident. After all, smokers are horrible human beings who introduce horrible chemicals into the air."

In related news, the government has announced that the benzene released by internal combustion engines is "substantially different" from that released by cigarette smoke and "only causes nice cancers".


In a speech to the approved members of the General Assembly of the United Nations (USA, UK & France (on Fridays only)), the Secretary General, George W Bush, announced that he had solved the two major problems of the world: poor people in the USA and economic migrants. "Poverty in the USA has been solved by expelling all poor people from the country. In future, only rich people will be allowed to live there."

The problem of immigration was also solved in a radical, simple manner. "The problem," he said, "is that everyone wants to live in rich successful places. In particular, everyone wants to live in California. The solution is to rename the planet California so that everyone already lives there. In that way, no-one will need to live any where else."


The Home Office has announced a complete overhaul of policing in the UK. In future, they will concentrate their efforts on real criminals, ignoring innocent people. This is regraded as a revolutionary change in policing methods in the UK: until now the police have spent much of the time trying to find the people who carried out crimes and assembling the evidence. "Effective immediately," a Home Office spokesperson announced, "the police will concentrate on criminals. It is well known that crimes are committed by these sorts of people and not by innocent ones. Ordinary, innocent citizens now only have to inform police that they aren't criminals and they will be automatically eliminated from the enquiries."

The new regime was welcomed by various consumer organisations: "Innocent motorists who exceed the speed limit for their own, personal reasons will no longer be branded criminals. Shooting annoying pets belonging to neighbours will not now be regarded as a cause for arrest. And we'll all be able to murder anyone who breaks into our houses. Just as long as they keep arresting smokers."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Posted @ 13:43Rob L's Guitar

Over Christmas, some low form of life broke into my friend's place and made off with — amongst other things — his guitar. Words fail me — at least words that are not profane and offensive to some. I will not dwell on the disgusting habits of the sort of people who would steal the prize possessions of someone who doesn't have very much to start with. Having suffered a similar invasion a couple of years ago, I feel for Rob.

The pictures on this post are of Rob's guitar. If you live in the Grimsby area and see someone with it, let me know (the e-mail address is at the top of the blog) and then let the person know what a scumbag they are.

If you are the scumbag who did this, then I hope you suffer a lot of pain in the near future. This guitar has been at the centre of Rob's life for the last 12 years, losing it is like losing a limb or a loved one.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Posted @ 03:11A Project For 2007 - Update

In answer to several questions which have been raised in private regarding this project, let me assure you that Madonna continues to be ignored forever and the ignoring of Cruise, Gibson & Gervaise should not detract from this.

Under the terms of the project, you should not, of course, read this post until the end of 2007.