Next: Science is now so complex that we can no longer ask What? We can now only wonder Why?

This Blog used to be about the question: What is Science?
Now, it asks: What is Happiness?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cycle & Ogle - The Genesis of Travel

For some time now I have been fascinated by how one thing leads to the next. It probably started with Don Bedford's quantumesque presentation at the great 'Science Versus Religion' debate (See my trailer for the DVD which will soon be on youtube).
He succinctly drew my attention to the absolute inevitability of all things manifest and the seemingly unavoidable determinism that we exist in. ... and then came 'Quantum Physics!'

(for a short tour of this see my website....

But, I after all, live in the world of the macro, so quantum flutuations aside for the time being, I have this almost religious fascination with WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.
The big ones are obvious.
If I sleep well, I work well, if I eat well, I feel well, if I exercise (regularly) I am happier.
But it is the SMALL STUFF that is really interesting.

Often I find that I stop at an intersection and, sensing the flutter of a butterfly's wings, I have an awesome moment of knowing that my next decision to turn left, right or go straight could have a huge impact on the rest of my life.

So, I have learnt that, when in doubt, take the road less travelled and see what happens. It's when we think we know what is going to happen that we lose touch with the real magic of Life. It is the excitement of that transient, unexpected, glorious adventure that lies at every hidden turn.

Blinded by the banal normality of modern life and our blinkered expectations of consumerized happiness, we happily feed our need for instant gratification from pay cheque to pay cheque, all the while dreaming of the bliss of retirement.

I did a very intelligent thing the day I turned 50.
I retired.
And to prove I was undefeated and indefatigable, I rode my bicycle 100 kms up the hill to Pietermaritzburg. The hill was quite windy as I stopped off to have countless cups of tea and chats with old friends, who marked for me my annuity payments over the years.

It was tea with Jee and birthday lunch with the Reids and extended family. I pondered the Commemorative wall on the Comrades Marathon route and gazed over the local Rift Valley (which we call the Valley of 1000 hills). As I drifted past the goats and sex workers, the curio sellers and the childhood memories of the Natal Midlands, I wished that I could one day do this trip even slower, and sleep out in the veld on the road side. But this is South Africa and those days are well gone. Maybe...somewhere else on the planet...maybe.

I ended up round a humble camp fire at the Shona Langa Wildlife Sanctuary, spiritual abode of my dear friend, Dr. 'DontalkdooLittle' Victor Hugo. The rest is history and all downhill back to Durban.
If I were to draw a line connecting the events of my life since then, with a starting point at that camp fire, then the line would be bold and running close to the surface.
It would lead through many a mile of two wheeled soulfulness and end up here, today, as I sit with a picture in my head of arriving at Dulles International airport on the 31st of August 2008 with a duplicate of my travel bags 3 years ago.
By taking photographs and keeping a journal/blog/morning pages/thoughts in the shower notes/ I am able to trace some of the many sub-narratives that have lead me towards this next 2 wheeled adventure.

There is no definitive true sequence of events. Without the complex interweaving of an almost infinite number of natural influences, life would lose its magic and I would be obliged to invent an extraneous force to put the beauty back in being. Suffice to say that I am in no current danger of that.
So, to tell this tale, I am limiting myself to a few significant threads. I have added a story here by Rabbi Lister, delivered as a poignant obituary at Steve Sack's memorial in London on the 15th June '08. It is easy to translate the metaphor from his vision to mine. See

The blue thread of the Tzittzit is the story that seems to most draw us towards our destiny.

Full of the joys of recent 'follow our nose UK travel', I head back to Durban and Cape Town to follow my instinct in making a doccie about the sad vanishing of Ubuntu.
I ask for a window seat for both the Nairobi to Jhb and Jhb to Durban legs. But I am chatting so to the Kenyan guy at the check-in that I neglect to confirm the Durban seat. By the time I get on the plane, it is crowded and I have to backtrack to my booked aisle seat. I climb over the seat backs and nearly land on top of the person who is clearly in my window seat. A young lady who seems bemused by my antics. Being somewhat interested in the trajectorial possibilities of not choosing who you sit next to on a plane, I start talking. By the time the person whose seat I am now in arrives, I am faced with the challenge of having an inflight conversation across a third party's dinner plate and self improvement book. And anyway, Ms Wittman and I are in the middle of discovering a common interest in Kenya. I quickly swap seats and for the next hour I'm fascinated to hear all about Dr. Sarah E Wittman's research into small underground termites in the shadow of Mt Kenya. See

When I discover that she hails from roughly the same part of the world that Ida and I are planning to visit in a month or so (The North-Eastern part of USA), I pick her brain a bit, trying to get a picture of what I can do in my time there while Ida is conferencing. I start to see an image in my head of bicycle and tent in the Appalachian Mts to the west of Washington DC. Is it possible to camp in the woods? What will it cost? Can I ride my bike from Dulles International to Washington Central? Should I hire there, or take my own? What is definite is that there is a huge amount of beauty out there, waiting for people liike me to throw our hearts into it.
I make a tentative arrangement with Sarah to meet again, which we do and after throwing her off the pier into the Indian Ocean hear more about the 'non-Iraq War' side of America and her life in Kenya. My head is full of images of the young people I saw in England recently, endlessly traversing the pedestrian malls of endless towns with seemingly no thoughts of going anywhere less predictable.

Then there are people like Sarah Wittman ( my Sarah Smith and my girlfriend Ida and Jack Piccone ( and my ancestors who left Sweden for the great unknown of Africa.........and the idea began to grow.
Thank dog for Google. I discovered the cycle routes of Washington. There are miles and miles of reclaimed rail tracks now set aside for bicycles. I was just getting excited about this when I bumped into Jennifer, our ex tenant from West Virginia, now playing in the Durban Orchestra and recently mugged in Ridge Rd. Seemingly alive from the experience she told me about the C&O Canal trail.

Wow! Even better! It starts in the city of Washington and follows the old Potomac barging route for 180 miles, winding through village and dale. There are free campsites every 5 miles and plenty supplies en route. Not quite the Appalachians with grizzly bears, but I will get to meet ordinary Americans.
Here is a very tempting review of the trail>>

"I just completed 141 miles from Cumberland to Harper's Ferry with twin 7-yr old sons, riding 7 days, camping 5 nights at Hiker/Biker sites. This is pretty much the ultimate trail of its type in the U.S., but it's not for everyone. Specifically, while the double-track is in pretty good shape, within 3 days of rain you'll be seeing hundreds of mud puddles per day, 80% of which you can ride around, 20% you can't. This trip is made for hybrids, although between a road bike and pure mountain bike, I'd take the latter if you could carry enough gear. The C&O is infamous for breaking all things aluminum and thin and fast. Every fourth road-bike biker has a broken-parts story. Upsides: Free swimming, stone-pebble beaches, etc. in the Potomac about every other night; free campsites, almost all with free water, benches, river views, ready firewood, and almost always complete privacy. For three of our seven total days out, above mile 125, we didn't see a single soul on the trail, although at general stores just off the towpath we'd sometimes see day-riders. Even the weekdays before Labor Day the towpath was utterly person-less -- good for us, but I'd expected 20 through-riders a day. We didn't see more than 15-20 through-riders over the whole week and 141 miles. Many of those were going all the way to Pittsburgh, a 350-mile run. To summarize: This is one hell of a ride, and the only one I know of in the country of its length and beauty that children or anyone averse to traffic would love, but you and your bike both have to be fairly tough, and you should be pretty good at camping because generally, you have one resupply chance per day and that's it. And sometimes not even one. Oh yeah -- if you can't handle walking the bike through a totally-dark medieval 3200-foot abandoned canal tunnel -- the Paw Paw tunnel -- then skip this trip. I don't think one in two adults can go through that thing without getting the heebie-jeebies. "

By the time I woke up this morning I had an even clearer picture. Take a camera, document the trip, blur the lines between work and play.
The countdown is on.....4 weeks to go!
Meantime can I recommend a good book - 'critical mass' - 'how one thing leads to another' by Philip Ball.
Crossing the disciplines of economics, sociology and psychology and working from a strong base of modern simulation physics and game theory, Philip Ball shows how much we can understand of human behaviour when we cease to predict and analyse the actions of individuals and look to the impact of hundreds, thousands or millions of individual human decisions.
Rock on...and remember that the reason we travel is for what we least expect to happen.
GET FIT!!!!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

But what are the Units?!

Wednesday 23rd July 2008

I am well back in Durban, en route to Nairobi, but will probably only be heading out of town towards the month end.
I am sitting looking at the images from the week in Cape Town and smiling every time the 'Green Lady' pops up. She is a stately 1966 Mercedes Benz loaned to my by my dear friend, Holger Wellmann....Thanks for the loan of 'her majesty'. She behaved exactly as you described, from the occasional cutting out when cold to the very dubious sounding thuds from under the car when taking off...normally before she was up to cruising temperature. But once on the open road, she came into her own and only the mountains and work load prevented me thundering off Northwards with her gleaming chrome outshining anything else on the road. On several occasions, otherwise mean-looking Cape Flats taximen would open their window and beam at me, saying, 'Madala! Madala!'

Also thanks for the update on the mechanics of diabetes. I came back to a typical first/third world interface with a frantic sms at 5h30 in the morning, last Monday. 'Mr buggie, is Mzala. Gogo she is very sick'.

So off I shot into the night to Inanda to find Gogo somewhat unconscious but breathing. Sadly the local clinic had not been able to provide test strips for the glucometer so we were unable to assess the relevant levels and instead took the trusted McCords option. This meant wrapping her up in a blanket and loading her in the back of Ida's SUV.
After a spoon of sugar or two Gogo woke up in the resus room at McCords. Her Blood glucose level at 2.1.
A slightly confuzzled doctor went thru the maze of notes and histories and was particularly confused by the last script from the local Inanda clinic prescribing 60mg of Insulin. Strange, because up till then the dose had been 6 units.
At this point I decided to find out more about the units and standards around insulin. It was clear that somehow Gogo was getting too high a nocturnal dose.
Gogo back at home with suitably raised sugar levels, I checked up on the injection procedures and watched as the caregiver (grandson, Mzala Julayi) carefully measured out 60 units. Quite understandable as the U100 syringe he was given by the state was marked in 2 different units. On one side, 00 to 100 and on the other .1 to 1.0. He had simply been given the equipment with no training and presumed that the .6 (ml) was 6 units.
He had changed from a pen to the syringe when they moved from McCords to the state system, but no solid info was provided to get him going.
I am now measuring Gogo's fasting level in mml/l in the morning and giving her 6 units of insulin at night. She also has a 1g dose of Metformin. Sofar we have seen the following results.
21st July - 21h00 (after supper) : 11.2mml/l
22nd July - 07h00 (fasting): 4.2ml/l
22nd July - 21h00 (2 to 3 hrs after supper): 14.4mml/l
23rd July - 08h00 (fasting): 5.4mml/l

I will continue to monitor the process till the weekend and then it is over to the family again. Even this is fascinating. The 37 yr old grandson who is the most reliable family member comes around every night at 21h00 to give Gogo her medicine. However, he is training up the 10 yr old great grandson, Siya, who, despite his lack of years is clearly a bright young fellow. I have attached some images I took last night.
The sadness of course is that during the day when everyone is out working or jolling, often Gogo is left under young Siya's care, who then has to abandon school to be there for her.

Tonight, I will film the process...seems like some good Ubuntu in action!