Le Grand K


I listen to a few podcasts like Nerdist, WTF with Marc Maron, Joe Rogan et al. All of these podcasts are people talking to other people in an interview type scenario, and generally talking over each other, getting overexcited etc. It’s really riveting stuff and I enjoy listening to them immensely – Guy Ritchie on Nerdist was surprisingly interesting. The other day I stumbled upon a podcast through Spotify called Radiolab.

When I first listened to Radiolab it immediately struck me how different it was from the other podcasts; clean and professionally presented, great producing. It’s still a discussion based podcast but it’s more of a presentation of findings than an out-and-out question and answer thing. It’s planned; has a story arc. More than that though; it’s incredibly engaging.

The basis of all their podcasts is a central story or theme related to science or situations, which they discuss in a structured way the findings and interesting facts that they have uncovered. The first episode I listened to was called “Shots Fired Pt.1” and deals with quite startling facts and figures about police related gun crime in Florida. “Shots Fired Pt.2” covers a story about a recovering alcoholic whom, after a verbal altercation with his newly wedded wife, heads off in his car to drink away his sorrows. Whilst he’s away he calls his boss, alarms him to an extent that the boss calls the police, and the police then visit his house, where they shoot and kill the wife. The husband, sitting in his car on the phone to one of the police officers approaching his house, hears the whole thing unfold in realtime.

I’ve since listened to 8-9 of them and each one is just fascinating. Today I listened to one about the Kilogram. Sounds dull, but it was really quite brilliant; a standard of measurement references established during the French revolution, just after the famine, to make sure citizens would get the same quantities from shop vendors each time i.e. loaves of bread were the same size. This standard kilogram reference, or “Le Grand K” sits in a vault underneath Paris. Exact, precision replications of this standard were sent over the world to allow calibration and a uniform definition of the Kilogram. With this system in place, it allowed the world to know that any weight measurement, whether it was flour or yourself, could be traced all the way back in accuracy to Le Grand K. A while later, they brought them all back to check the replicates weights against Le Grand K and found that the master Kilogram was slightly lighter than all the replicates! For some reason the master standard had lost the equivalent of a grain of sugar in weight. The question therefor was how this impacted the definition of the Kilogram, seeing as how the worldwide definition of the Kilogram must match the Standard Kilogram, i.e. the now slightly lighter lump of metal that is Le Grand K.  Pretty amazing.

Then there’s the one called “Nukes” about the chain of command in the USA when it comes to nuclear armament and the use thereof. It centres around a question posed in 1970 by one of the blokes sitting at one of the 2 keys to launch one of these world-ending missiles. That question was – in the case of a preemptive strike, how can I be sure that I am participating in a lawful act? How do I know the command to launch came from the President, or that the President was making the right call morally and justifiably; and not through some bravado or political based snap-decision? Is there a safety net in place? What if I refused to follow the command? It ultimately cost this guy his career for even asking that question. The rest of the discussion follows today’s protocol for launching a nuclear missile and how, when it really comes down to it, there might not be a choice in stopping such a launch.


I’m going through quite an interesting time at the minute – I feel peaceful and open to new things. I guess listening to the Radiolab podcasts has me in a thoughtful mindset. Tonight I left work later than usual because I was fiddling with Spotify and getting the family thingy set up; Mrs keeps elbowing me out of Spotify to listen to her dodgy music and I inevitably have to do without, unless I already have stuff saved offline. So I fiddled with getting that going after 5pm and then set off into the evening traffic. It was slow and drizzly but I knew I had to go get fuel so was happy diddling along behind some old boy on his way home. Rounding the final few bends before a rather treacherous T-junction, almost all the cars coming the other way flashed their lights at me. I slowed down anticipating perhaps an ambulance horsing it, or maybe another crap driver spun in the road – it would be greasy after a relatively dry day. Instead I arrived at the t-junction to 3 fire engines and a road closure. I could make out some cars stopped but didn’t see anything upsetting, thank goodness. Either way, there was a bunch of people who were either not making it home tonight, or having a bit of a difficult time of it.

Heading down the back-road to the petrol station I was thinking about the crash and that junction. Every day I deal with that junction and it’s just so precarious. Blind both ways with the main road travelling at 50+mph. Sometimes you have to gun it out the junction into a gap just big enough, otherwise you’ll be stuck there for 10 minutes. It can be, and certainly in my case has been, dodgy. Recently I’ve taken to adopting the “they can wait” attitude and have sat for a length, until a safe moment arrives; much to the chagrin of the folks behind with considerably less patience. I get home to see my girls – what can be of more importance than that? Anyway, I’m doddling along and arrive at the petrol station, get out and start to fill the car up. I’m looking around the garage and settle my gaze on the paper stands, each one showing the burning Grenfell Tower in Kensington, London.

It’s been a very sad couple of weeks. We decided to go out for dinner in the City for the first time since baby arrived. It was an absolutely beautiful evening that couldn’t be spoiled, even after my boss walked into this tiny restaurant we thought only we knew about. We had a great time drinking in an Art Deco style bar afterwards. But then we arrived back at the hotel to see that yet another terrorist attack had transpired in London, and it hit us harder than expected. We had just been in our city, doing exactly what these people in London had been doing. It could so easily have been us.

Each day that passes I am reminded of the bad in the world. Yesterday, as the Grenfell Tower burned and people’s lives changed, other people in Venezuela were burning down government building and more people were getting killed, and many more injured by gun crime in America.

I am reminded of the bravery and commitment shown by the firefighters, police officers and paramedics in the unwavering pursuit of life preservation. The firefighters risking absolutely everything to rescue innocent people from a preventable situation. The police officers putting themselves out there in the line of fire to make ordinary people feel comfortable walking the streets.

It’s difficult, when there’s so much bad happening, to see the good in each day. But it’s there if I take the time to look for it. I am simultaneously petrified and comforted by my wee girl. I see in her the innocence; of not knowing the evil in the world; of not caring what people think; of laughing uncontrollably at a fist bump. I feed off it. It keeps me pointing in the right direction. Deep down though, I can’t help but quiver with an intense fear, of this little person eventually being exposed to this world and all the bad within. How do I shield her from getting hurt without impacting negatively on her? I guess it’s every parent’s fear; I am not alone, that I can be absolutely sure of.

I never used to be this vigilant; this sceptical or bleak. I never used to get too mentally involved about things that didn’t impact me directly. Trump. Putin. May. Terrorism. My brain is mostly engaged in the good things going on; progress; trying to make a difference for the important people in my life. Lately though I’ve opened the blinds slightly and peaked out in to the world, and I wish I had left them the hell alone. They were doing a find job.


It’ll soon be our first holiday abroad in 3 years, and we are really excited. Not only are we heading to wine country, but we are travelling down through Belgium and hopefully, with enough time in the bank, stopping in at Musee Hergé! It’ll be nice to get away from the news for a bit.