Sharks on an Ideal Plane

There gets to a point when writing a PhD chapter, when you are on your third gin and tonic for the evening, that one should turn one’s attention outwardly. I’d like very much to share thoughts about my research but the very first thing they teach you in PhD school is that no-one else is interested in your topic, by virtue of being so obscure that it bears no relevance to the lives of others.

Instead I’ll do some calculations.

It seems to me rather odd, in this age of missing planes and controversial shark attacks, that interested parties (airlines and environmentalists, etc) frequently employ statistics to reinforce the fact that these events are exceptionally rare. And yes they are, by-and-large, though perhaps the most spectacular evidence that all is not what it seems, lies in the massive differences of the massive orders of magnitude in such material. And if one person is fit to recognise improper uses of statistics it is I, largely through my own severe transgressions.


Had I used the right shark, I could have called this picture ‘Tiger Airways’ and been appropriate on so many levels.

Earlier this year I came across a promotional poster actually pitting plane crashes and sharks against each other – in favour of sharks I believe (something to the order of hundreds/thousands times more likely to crash than be consumed), which piqued my interest as these are two of my more intimate* fears, and also as I touched upon with that shark-toaster comparison a while ago, I realised that there are far, far, far, far too many factors in plane-shark relations to effectively compare them.

So let’s compare them.

* By intimate I mean that the number of dreams I’ve had involving planes and plane crashes are literally equal. I think become so accustomed I’d be super-demure if I was involved in an actual fiery descent. And also I’ve had a youthful encounter with a carpet shark in the wild and watched Jaws a little early.

Probability of death in an air accident if you never fly and permanently reside in a bomb shelter or other secure underground complex: Approximately 0

Probability of death via shark attack if you never go in or near any sizeable body of water, nor be near a shark in transit, nor otherwise encounter a shark: Approximately 0

Probability to ensure a plane accident (1): Assuming consecutive 1 hour flights you’d need 114.077 years according to some calculations. Given there are a handful of verified people who have lived past that age, you could potentially spend your life working towards that particular goal.

Probability to ensure a shark encounter (1): Assuming 1 million life-threatening sharks (according to my last ‘study’) each with a 5km blood detection range (78.54km^2) equally spaced, makes for a 78 537 816 km squared area of ocean currently under shark-veillance; meaning 23.42% of the world’s oceans are currently detectable by sharks. Totally inaccurate, but let’s go with it. Assuming a cruising speed of 8km/hour in straight lines, it would take our imaginary shark formation 19.635 hours to leisurely cover an entirely new 23.42%, and 84 hours to complete detecting all the earth’s oceans. So if you were adrift in the ocean, basically in the time for an equally-spaced shark to ‘certainly’ detect you (3.5 days) you’d be dying from, ironically, thirst.

We're going to need a bigger boa. :D

We’re going to need a bigger boa. 😀

So in fanciful summary, both planes crashes and shark attacks are something you could (I guesstimate) live to reasonably expect, but only towards the very end of your life in each situation. However, if you took to human shark-baiting in convenient instalments, it would become much more attainable, and there is probably a strong correlation between amount of human-shark numbers/proximity and attacks, whereas flights are more quantitative and can only take finite passengers (one hopes). Anyway, the moral is that both these situations could conceivably become either a statistical certainty OR a statistical impossibility, depending on person, country, airline choices, frequency, stupidity, rugged determination, weather, preferred swimming times, etc, etc, etc.

So don’t.

Blanket Statements

Abstract painting has always been something I avoided. Despite the exploratory tack I desperately like to take with music, being relatively untaught in the art-realm I tend to cautiously stick to the knee-deep waters of photo-realism, where I can judge how effective a painting is purely by how much it looks like the thing I am painting.

Nailed it.

The most exciting thing I found to draw in Bangalow… Nice place though.

The treacherous, murky currents further off-shore contain pretentious, vague beasts of prey, just waiting to pounce when an art student submits a blank canvas with the word “Future” written on it in sparkly glitter. I was going to say clear gelatine, but that might actually be profound, because in the ‘future’ while it is sitting in the garbage, a colony of ants will probably come along to eat the crystals and thus illuminate the word with their bodies… Apart from a woeful tale of artistic anguish and futility, the moral of the story here is that you can justify anything* with enough of an explanation.

*Indeed, I once told a concert audience that the piece I was playing; “Canteyodjaya” by Olivier Messiaen, was written when he was twelve years old and named after his pet axolotl. This is of course completely** untrue, not to mention utterly ludicrous, but, said with a straight face, it was met not with laughter, but with blank stares, approving nods and knowing smiles. Ironically, I later received one of my best gigs that day from a member of the audience who ‘liked the way I spoke (spake?).”

**probably and hopefully.


Axolotls can regrow vital organs, including parts of their brains.

But I digress.

Yes, I have taken my first steps into this notorious tide by taking up the palate knife rather than the brush and attempted a non-photo-realistic portrait. Due to the new lack of detail, and the often inadvertent, but welcome, special-effects of the palate knife medium, I am ashamed to say that instead of the usual 2-month effort, I completed this painting in 2 days; one session doing a rough background coat and the other the actual painting.

It is of Molly, the chocolate labrador, from Lake Cathie, on new years eve, with a blanket.

It is of Molly, the chocolate labrador, from Lake Cathie, on new years eve, with a blanket.

Morocco’s Modern Life

To set the mood:
Bonnies Poem
Good. Now that’s out of the way, to provide a bit of explanatory background…
It was the heat of the Moroccan summer. We were in Casablanca, heading for Milan. The plane was waiting on the hot tarmac, after a cramped bus ride. Fortunately the plane air-conditioning wasn’t working, and we had for company a family of four somewhat screaming children. There was a not-remarkable delay sitting in the cabin, but soon* we were on our way to the take-off strip. The runway if you will.
I grabbed her hand as I am want to do during take-off and landing. The plane began to accelerate, faster and faster. We were about to lift off; starting to experience that surreal weightlessness when suddenly we began to slow down again. It took twenty minutes to limp back to the tarmac. The crew said nothing beyond that there was a technical error.
Some of the goats were ripe.

The Moroccan version of Newton’s realisation-of-gravity story is a lot more colourful!

The air-conditioning was still not working, which didn’t really matter as we were only a few degrees away from being at the closest possible point on Earth to the sun. We stayed there for three hours in that orange heat. The children grew ever more unruly and it was only later on finally leaving the plane that we were able to survey the true extent of their damage: including the floor of the plane covered with the shattered remnants of those airline safety cards, torn to shreds among a coating of various food crumbs. A coating we too shared. A rebellion was quelling among the passengers and various factions were forming, but before a coup could be attempted the crew announced the problem had been fixed, or that they were going to ‘risk it.’
In any case, it was a major fault with an engine that had to be solved because there were no other planes available and I admit it was not the most comforting experience re-lining up again to take-off. Having survived, Bonnie asked me to write this poem in the car in Milan, my normally illegible handwriting kept rigorously in check by the gloriously cool climate and surprised relief at not going down in a big fireball as I calmly expected.
Cat on a Cartesian Plane

Moroccan cats have genetically evolved to maintain their kitten form well into adult-hood. This leads them to become world-weary and apathetic towards human-cat interaction.

P.S. I completely understand that some countries have chaotic traffic/driving as the encouraged standard, usually with appalling fend-for-yourself conditions. However, perhaps the strangest thing about Casablanca was that the roads and lanes were exquisitely well-marked and signalled, yet everyone disregarded this and drove around like it was American Civil War Reenactment In Socks Night at a museum of waxed flooring.