A Small Blue thing

Pale blue dot image with a wider field of view to show more background

We are here… for now (Images courtesy of NASA, Public Domain)

“Today, I am

A Small Blue Thing.

Like a marble

Or an eye.”

Small Blue Thing by Suzanne Vega

When Suzanne Vega sang these words, I don’t think she had the picture in mind. I’m sure she didn’t, in fact, but somehow the words resonate both with the picture’s title and its subject.

Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a distance of 3.7 billion miles. The scientist Carl Sagan requested that NASA turn Voyager round to photograph Earth one last time, before this human-made object headed into the space between the space. It has now travelled the furthest from its origin than any human-crafted object has, and is currently still communicating with us at a distance of 13 billion miles.

We did that. As a species, we did that. In doing so, we have helped us all to understand our place, both physical and metaphysical, in the Universe.

“As we begin to comprehend that the earth itself is a kind of manned spaceship hurtling through the infinity of space — it will seem increasingly absurd that we have not better organized the life of the human family.”

— Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President of the United States, speech at San Fernando Valley State College, 26 September 1966.

“Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the Earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.”

— Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut, interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon.

“If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried away looking at the Earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no way.” But yet when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the moon, I cried.”

— Alan Shepard

Perhaps the first group of people on those much-hyped commercial space flights shouldn’t be a random collection of wealthy individuals. It should be the leaders of every nation on the planet. They should see what it is that they, collectively, represent.* Maybe they can stay up there until all of them can prove they understand what it is to affect the future of A Small Blue Thing.


As I started gathering quotes for this post, the so-called “Doomsday Clock” (not, as the BBC article was at pains to point out, a real timepiece) was advanced by 30 seconds, largely because of the expected problems caused by one individual, living on that pale blue dot.

For Humans, that dot disappearing would be apocalyptic. For the Universe, not so much. It really is time we all remembered that.


* Plus there could be a TV show public vote to decide who we allow back to terra firma.

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Heads you…


For my birthday last year I received “Under the Dome” and “11.22.63”, both by Stephen King but neither actually from him (he never remembers my birthday but that’s OK because, given he doesn’t know I exist, it would be creepy, even by his standards, if he did). Now both these books are a thousand pages plus and I needed to do exercises to build up my arm muscles so I could hold the book when reading it. I polished off “Under the Dome” (what the hell was the TV series based on? I gave up after series one.) in a couple of months and, after a suitable period of relaxation for my biceps to recover, manfully* started on “11.22.63”.

In it, the character refers, more than once, to the idea that “life turns on a dime”. Today, I stumbled across a real-life example of this.

The guitarist, Tommy Allup, died on the 11th of January 2017. He was 85 and you probably don’t know his name – I didn’t recognise it, but he was considered one of the best rockabilly guitarists ever. Once he had established himself, he started to play with famous American musicians and tour with them.

On one tour, he flipped a coin to decide whether he travelled through vicious snow and ice storms in the Mid-West on the tour bus or in an aeroplane. He lost the bet and took the bus.

His mode of transport was decided on the flip of a coin. The winner, musician Richie Valens, took the seat on the plane, along with Buddy Holly.

The plane crashed shortly after take-off.

It was the day that Don McLean later called “the day the music died”.

For some, life really does “turn on a dime”.


* As manfully as it gets for someone who gets tired from holding a paperback.

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The Value of Value


It’s a bit ranty this blog, so here’s a fun picture to balance it out

I saw this story first on Facebook and then elsewhere. It rather neatly, I think, demonstrates how value and cost are often not related to each other than through the perceptions of the protagonists.

Someone, having visited a York café and paid £2 for a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon, complained on Trip Advisor (rather than directly to the owner of the cafe in person). This customer did apparently ask the waiter why the cost was set as it was, to which he replied that it was the same as a pot of tea for one, presumably in an attempt to make the cost seem reasonable. However, the owner replied on Trip Advisor, with a somewhat more detailed breakdown:

I’m sorry that you feel that you were “ripped off” and I’ll try to explain why you weren’t. You entered the cafe and the waiter showed you to your seat, gave you a menu, waited for a time and then took your order. He entered it into the till, collected a cup, saucer and spoon and took them into the kitchen. There, he selected a knife, chopping board, got a lemon from the fridge, cut off a slice and put it in the cup. Then, he returned to the dining room, drew off the necessary hot water and carried the cup to your table. When you were leaving, he printed off your bill, took it to you, processed your credit card payment and cashed off the till. After you left, he cleared away your cup, saucer and spoon, took them into the kitchen, washed and dried them, along with the chopping board and knife and put away the lemon. Then, returning to the dining room, he restacked the cup, saucer and spoon, wiped down your table and replaced the menu, awaiting the next customer.

That’s at least 2-3 minutes work for the waiter.

The cost of overheads for the business, ie rent, business rates, electricity costs, bank charges, etc, works out at £27.50 per hour of trading. I pay my colleagues a decent living wage and after taking into account holiday pay, national insurance and non-productive time prior to opening and after closing, the waiter who served you costs me £12.50 per hour. Therefore, together the cost is £40 per hour or 67p per minute, meaning that the cost of providing you with 2-3 minutes of service was £1.34 – £2.00. Then the government add on VAT at 20% which takes the cost of that cup of fruit infusion to between £1.60 and £2.40 irrespective of whether you had a teabag costing one and a half pence or a slice of lemon costing five pence.

I have to pay my suppliers otherwise the facilities won’t be available to other people who use them in the future. I accept that it makes the price of a cuppa in a city centre cafe look expensive compared to the one you make at home but unfortunately that’s the cruel reality of life. It’s actually the facilities that cost the money, far more so than the ingredients. Perhaps, the rudeness that you perceived in me was triggered by the disrespect that I perceived in you by your presumption that you could use our facilities and be waited on for free.

What does this tale say to you?

I think it shows a problem that our society has sleep-walked into over the last few decades. We don’t know the value of anything, only the pounds and pence cost. We don’t stop to consider the true cost to the supplier, the manufacturer or the originator. There is a belief that, with the Internet, everything ought to be free. Nothing has a value, nothing IS a value. I should have that printed on T-shirts and give them away as examples of post-modern irony gone mad.

Actually, for me, one of the really short-sighted aspects of this story is the charging of VAT on café food. The benefit to a society of having free speech in public places over a cup of tea, coffee, lemon infusion or even a skinny-organic-moccha-macciato-with-extracts-oh-yes-from-yoga-mat-infused-a-chino is incalculable. And, in the last case, undrinkable.



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DB Mr Law

In the Music Bar (Motto: We don’t care what key, clef or time signature you are, as long as you have a good time”), Classical strolls in, whistling that tune that everyone recognises but no one can place. “Hey, Poppy! How’s it sellin’? Still crooning them out I hear!”

“Oh, hi Classy. Yeah, the big guns are belting out what I think are classics but there are more to come. It’s just…”

“What old buddy? Running out of my stuff to rearrange? Don’t glare, just kidding. Probably. What’cha worrying about?”

“The future, Classy, a better future. Humans are looking to the stars and hoping there is someone out there to temper our madness, to keep us sane. And the tinpot machines we are creating!  Those new fangled computing device things will be composing music and playing music and storing music before you can say ‘let’s dance’ and I just feel all the young dudes will get swept away with it. There’s no one to embrace the technology to come and weave it into something new, some magic dance.”

“Sure there is! You just have to listen out, Poppy, listen out. From all the heroes, yours will be here soon, I can feel it.”

“I hope you’re right, Classy, I really do. Someone to put sound and vision to the oncoming storm of frightening lightning. Some cracked actor to plug the gaps. Let’s pray they turn up soon.”

“Keep plugging and praying away Poppy! Hey, that could be a thing – plug and play! Er, maybe not.”

The bar falls silent. It is Brixton on January 8th 1947. A star baby cries. Poppy, eyes opened wide, recognising an answered prayer, thinks “Changes are coming.”

bowie roundabout



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Happy 2016…


Nice planet – let’s keep it that way for another year, OK?

Have a happy one, everybody! Do amazing things!


Categories: Sustainable Stuff, Universe | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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