random topics...

Sonyís robot Qrio was already able to kick a ball and dance. It can now run at a speed of 46 feet per minute. Since running requires both legs to be off the ground at the same time, this is a major new development. More sophisticated features in the robotís joints and a beefed up control processing unit were required to provide the necessary balance and manoeuvrability.

The running robot is 0.2 inches off the ground for 4 one hundredths of a second. The skill of Sonyís electronics and entertainment department is impressive. But so is the skill human beings display every time they break into a trot. And we do it without even having to think about it.

The human body is a remarkable machine worth celebrating today. People with limited mobility are perhaps conscious because they canít do it of how miraculous is the ability to run. For the rest of us, if we have occasion to increase our pace to jogging today, letís not forget how amazing it is that we can.

In Gap, near Grenoble, a cacophonous cockerel has been granted permission to continue its pre-dawn cock-a-doodle-doo. A couple, who had moved in next door to a chicken farm, asked the court to authorise the silencing of the rooster but the judge declined on the grounds that it was only doing what it was meant to do

Human beings also enjoy being free to behave naturally. Sometimes however childhood experience or the expectations of others cause peopleís behaviour to be determined, not by their own natural responses, but more by what they think other people want them to do. Part of growing in maturity is learning to know our own wishes and desires.

On the other hand, one person behaving in a way that comes naturally to them should not interfere unreasonably with another personís freedom to do the same. There is always a balance to be sought. The instruction of Jesus that we should ďlove our neighbour as ourselvesĒ implies that both sides of the equation are equally important. The task of learning to love involves discovering how to achieve that balance.

Perhaps today it might be worth checking that we are being sufficiently assertive about our own desires and sufficiently generous in taking othersí into account. There are only a limited number of things that come naturally to a cockerel but human beings have more choices. That's why they need the wisdom to seek an appropriate balance between other peopleís wishes and their own.

Angela Mountís taste buds are worthy £10 million. As the senior wine buyer for Sommerfield, thatís the amount her ability to pick out the best wines is worth to her employers. Other highly valued body-parts have included Anthony Worrall Thompsonís fingers (£500,000 each), Ken Doddís teeth (£4 million) and Jennifer Lopezís bottom ((£600,000).

To have that value put on you, or at least part of you, must do something for the ego. For some others, the sense that a part of their body does not have the expected beauty, or work as efficiently as it should, can make them feel worth less. Yet the taste buds, fingers, teeth and bottoms, indeed all the parts of our bodies, are precious whether we are famous or not, and should be treasured.

Jesus once commented on how valuable each person is. This worth does not depend on beauty or health. Letís today cherish the bodies we inhabit and particularly delight in any part of them which, for one reason or another, we would otherwise be tempted to undervalue.

In Japan last weekend the Buddhist ceremony of Hari-Kuyo, festival of the Broken Needles was celebrated. This is a tradition that has been carried on since at least 400AD. Once only observed by tailors and dressmakers, today anyone who sews can participate. A special shrine is made for the needles containing offerings of food, scissors and thimbles. A pan of tofu (soybean curd) is the centre of the shrine and all the needles that have become broken, bent and useless are inserted into it. The needles find their final resting place in the ocean as devotees wrap their tofu in paper and launch them out to sea.

Anyone who pauses to reflect on their past will be aware of things they have done and experiences they have had which no longer serve any purpose. Periods of struggle and stress, times when things went wrong, ideas and dreams that came to nothing, relationships which failed, may all be cause for regret. It is sometimes possible to know how these difficult times contributed to our present state of being and perhaps this was in a creative way. But there comes a time when it is best to put such memories out of our minds.

The people of the Old Testament celebrated the Day of Atonement by, among other things, symbolically laying on the head of a goat the rebelliousness and sin of the nation. The scapegoat was then sent off, carrying the painful memories and bitter regrets of the people into the desert.

Today itís worth asking ourselves whether there are any memories which still haunt us but which can no longer have any creative purpose. If so, it might be helpful to dispatch them from our minds deliberately and self-consciously. Perhaps, even though we may not be near an ocean or desert, our imaginations might come up with some symbolic way of saying goodbye to our regrets.

Twenty two years ago today, two American astronauts fired the jet thrusters on their backpacks and rose out of their spaceshipís cargo bay. Free of any lifeline and travelling at 17,500 miles an hour, they moved untethered into the dark void. The courage required from these first human satellites was particularly great because the three previous experiments on this mission had failed.

Extraordinary though the experience was, the two space fliers were apparently glad to return to the safety of their spaceship. There is a part in every human being which needs to feel grounded. We need the security of the familiar, of knowing where we are, and the excitement of the unusual and challenging is best enjoyed when there is a safe and containing base to return to.

People who donít have any place or person which feels like home usually find life a lonely struggle. If we know people in that situation, we might think what we could do to offer some kind of lifeline to help them feel at least partially tethered to a solid base. It might also be worth while to consider today where we find that grounding for our lives. It may be places, it may be people, but letís celebrate, if we can, the fact that though we may occasionally take some time to float free, there is a basic security to come back to.

Part of an exhibit at the Tate Modern Gallery consists of giant mirrors mounted on the ceiling. Visitors have taken to lying on the floor and staring up at their reflection. Some slide down the ramp into the hall on their backs, looking upwards to follow their progress. Others have been lying end to end to make it look as though they are part of a human totem pole. Many work together, and by holding hands and moving their limbs in unison, they choreograph elaborate shapes.

The exhibit has been extremely popular. Perhaps one attraction is the combination it offers of being able both to observe ourselves as individuals and to cooperate with others in groups. Our natural interest in seeing ourselves as part of a work of art, and in seeing what we look like to others, contributes towards our understanding and regard for ourselves. The chance to design combinations that include other people, and build on other peopleís ideas to create patterns, meets a different human need to cooperate with others.

All of us are involved in these two aspects of human living. Being ourselves and discovering who we are is one challenge; learning to live and work with others is another. As at the exhibition, the two interact. Letís today value chances of colleagueship with others and take delight in opportunities to boost our own morale. The two in tandem make for a healthy life.

A device has been invented which can tell a dogís mood by measuring the wag of the tail. The wagometer, as its called, responds to sensors on the dogís tail. ďA happy dog tends to have a wide and horizontal wag,Ē says the inventor, Dr Roger Mugford. ďA high tail that only wags at the tip indicates the dog is ready to attackĒ.

Human body language is subtler. Experts are more aware of the niceties than the rest of us but few of us need a machine to translate its more obvious elements. Human eyes, faces, arm and hand movement can all speak to the observer, often as clearly as speech itself.

Letís particularly enjoy today noticing those smiles, glances, facial expressions and gestures which communicate how those around us are feeling. We can delight too that though there are common factors, each personís body language is unique to them and expresses an individual personality that no machine could begin to measure.

Lord Leightonís Flaming June is now worth millions of pounds but itís not part of Andrew Lloyd Webberís collection of mainly Victorian art. Fifty years ago as an enthusiastic 15-year-old collector, Lord Lloyd-Webber asked his grandmother for £50 so that he could purchase the painting from a junk shop. His powers of persuasion were not up to it and he says he has never quite forgiven her for refusing.

There is always something frustrating about the inability to share a vision with others. People who can see possibilities in a situation, or have an idea that feels creative, want to share the prospect with potential partners and allies. Their response however is often less than enthusiastic and is dampened by their knack of seeing only the difficulties and problems that might emerge. Persuading them to share in any risks involved can be an uphill task.

Itís wonderful to feel excited about an idea. Sometimes the realism other people bring to discussion of it is disappointing but sensible. Sometimes though, the energy that comes with the excitement is a valid encouragement to take any risks involved. As today we perhaps come up with ideas of our own or are invited to listen to other peopleís, itís worth remembering that the world has benefited enormously from those who have gone where others have been too faint-hearted to tread.

A woman once brought her son to visit Mahatma Ghandi. She asked him to please tell her son that he should stop eating sugar. "Come back in three days and I will grant your request," he said. Three days later, she came back with her son, and Ghandi knelt down beside the boy and, looking him in the eyes, said "You really should stop eating sugar, as your mother wishes."

The boy promised he would stop. The woman, curious, asked Ghandi why he did not do this on their first visit, three days earlier. He replied "Three days ago, I had not stopped eating sugar."

On the anniversary of the assassination of Ghandi, itís worth recalling among other qualities, the utter integrity which led to that exchange. His influence on the people of India sprang very largely from his refusal to ask of anyone else what he was not prepared to do himself. This extended from large dangerous confrontations with the Raj to more minor personal interactions such as this.

Today there will be occasions when people seek our advice or we ask others to undertake tasks. Perhaps what Ghandi felt necessary was to put himself in the same position as the recipient of his request. Frequently it will not be appropriate for us to follow our own advice or do the job weíve requested of others. But we could use our imaginations to put ourselves into the shoes of the other person involved and allow that to determine what we ask of them and how we say it.

Scientists at the intelligence gathering station in Cheltenham were baffled recently by strange high-frequency noises coming from a signal station in Yorkshire. Initially thought to be caused by spies or even aliens, the phenomenon was eventually tracked down to a ram rubbing its horns against the aerial masts. ďItís possible the ram was attracted to the mast which may have given off some kind of tingling sensation,Ē said a rather sheepish GCHQ spokesman.

Thereís something rather sad about a ram who has to resort to an aerial mast for stimulation. We too need the stimulation of touching both physical objects and other people; itís part of what makes living in the flesh interesting. We also need to have our emotions kept alive. When life becomes routine and we go from day to day without feeling anything very much, the emptiness of it eats away at our vitality.

Letís today be grateful for the sensations we get from touching, and for emotions, even some which may cause us pain, because they make us feel alive.