Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Syria: how did your MP vote?

See the Ayes and Noes (for Division Number 70) here in Hansard. (I tried to transcribe the lists but computers, you know.)

Sadly, as Autonomous Mind says, you can't necessarily read any good motive into a No vote; and the vote in the Commons nowhere near reflects the split in public opinion. All this has achieved is to highlight the disconnect between the electorate and their supposed representatives. However, I on this occasion I see an Aye vote as a slightly less ambiguous demerit.

And just as US Congress first voted the right way on the $700 billion bailout, and was then bullied by Paulson & Co. into voting again his way, I shouldn't wonder if Parliament has another go at this issue from another direction, perhaps after Obama sends in the drones.

And as for John Kerry's "proof" of Assad's guilt re chemical weapons, here's a pregnant snippet from John Ward:

At the website of French weekly Valeurs Actuelles, an interesting message from a threader mentions the arrest by the Turkish authorities on the 30th May 2013 of a dozen members of Al Nosra ( close to Al Qaida)*. The same also reports on a dispatch from Agence France Press regarding the recent seizure of ” a great quantity of gas masks” in South East Lebanon; According to an anonymous source these masks were to be delivered in Syria.

* Caught with, the threader says ("Jean Billet", 23:53), two kilos of Sarin.
____________________
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Friday, August 30, 2013

The painful progress of fusion

I recently undertook my decennial scan of our latest efforts to extract useful amounts of energy from controlled nuclear fusion. It’s one of those subjects I feel a need to check up on every decade or so in case I miss an interesting new development.

Okay that may be a little cynical, but domestic electricity produced by nuclear fusion seems to have been thirty years away for my entire life and time is running out. My time at any rate, because I’ve finally reached an age where I may claim with some confidence that fusion power will never be viable. I mean – there is no longer much risk of my being proved wrong before coffin time is there?

So where are we now? Well iter.org is possibly the place to go for the upbeat, mainstream, big money view. Technically and as an example of human determination to succeed, it’s a mighty project. In spite of my crusty cynicism, I’m also something of a closet nerd. I simply can’t help but be impressed. I want it to work but that thirty year horizon is still with us.

ITER is not an end in itself: it is the bridge toward a first plant that will demonstrate the large-scale production of electrical power and tritium fuel self-sufficiency. This is the next step after ITER: the Demonstration Power Plant, or DEMO for short. A conceptual design for such a machine could be complete by 2017. If all goes well, DEMO will lead fusion into its industrial era, beginning operations in the early 2030s, and putting fusion power into the grid as early as 2040.

As early as 2040? Almost a whole career from now, but one hopes that is merely a coincidence. Yet if nuclear fusion is ever to yield an unlimited supply of energy at an accessible cost, then we are surely entitled to be a little hard-headed as well as taking the long view. Take this on the Hot Cell Facility for example:-

The Hot Cell Facility will be necessary at ITER to provide a secure environment for the processing, repair or refurbishment, testing, and disposal of components that have become activated by neutron exposure. Although no radioactive products are produced by the fusion reaction itself, energetic neutrons interacting with the walls of the vacuum vessel will 'activate' these materials over time. Also, materials can become contaminated by beryllium and tungsten dust, and tritium.

By the phrase components that have become activated by neutron exposure, they mean components made radioactive by the neutron flux from the fusion reaction. Although the deuterium/tritium fusion reaction is the most favourable fusion reaction energetically, it spews out a lot of neutrons which are bound to make containment materials radioactive.

So as well as the extreme technical difficulties in containing a fusion plasma at 150 million degrees, we have a radioactive waste problem which never goes away.

Not only that, but tritium is a rare isotope of hydrogen and about 300g of tritium will be required per day to produce 800 MW of electrical power. The plan is to generate this in situ via lithium and that neutron flux, but this too has yet to be tested on a sufficiently large scale. According to Wikipedia, commercial demand for tritium is 400 grams per year, costing about US $30,000 per gram.

So as ever, fusion power has many hurdles to overcome, but a serious fusion plant is being built and more lessons will be learned. Somehow though, it all sounds ominously expensive even though costs will be driven down if the technique ever goes commercial.

Will it ever go commercial though?

Something inside me says not, but maybe that’s because I’ve waited such a long time for this particular egg to hatch. For me it has acquired the queasy feel of a colossal vanity project.

Ho hum – maybe I’ll take another gander in 2023.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Bumbleberries

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blackberry_fruits10.jpg

That's what we heard a little girl call blackberries, or brambleberries, growing wild by the Wye at Tintern. Possibly it was a confusion with bumblebees, but we insist this goes into the dictionary.

Or be used as the proprietary name for a mobile phone for the elderly.

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A radical government without support is a dictatorship


And so David Cameron becomes the first PM in over two centuries to fail to carry the House with him on war action. He gets little sympathy from Max Hastings, who is still seething over being prevented from having an interview with a British general on the ground that "there has been far too much military leaking to the media".

But it's not just Cameron who is displaying premature signs of the autocrat. Michael Gove appears to think that bovine party loyalty trumps the will and interest of the country he has a temporary part in governing: it is reported that he "had to be restrained by colleagues" as he repeatedly yelled "disgrace" at Conservative and LibDem MPs who voted against bombing Syria.

The UN inspectors' report on the alleged use of chemical weapons is not yet due and it is far from certain that the Syrian government is responsible for the attack that is supposed to form the pretext for another terrible Western military adventure. The allegation is hardly credible: how, knowing that it would trigger direct intervention by the USA, is Assad supposed to have believed launching a gas attack would serve his best interest, and even if he had thought that, why on earth bomb a school?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b038zlbl/BBC_News_at_Ten_29_08_2013/
The sight of the wounded, some of them being trucked in from somewhere, is certainly horrible, but just as Othello's demand for "ocular proof" is used against him, it is still difficult to determine causes and agents. In a TV world, even those in developing countries have learned how to present a story to the news media. Let's not forget that aside from the conflicting personal and political ambitions in the now war-torn country of Syria, we have vehemently differing religious views, even within Islam: its Prophet himself said that there would be 72 factions, and only one would be right.

In the midst of this information fog, we're told Gove "did not join colleagues in calling for MPs to vote on military action, saying he believed the appropriate response should be decided by the Prime Minister." Soldiers, who have to kill and die, are not so gung-ho. Hastings quotes a letter in yesterday's Times newspaper from General Sir Michael Rose:

"... the invasion of Iraq, initiated by Bush and supported so zealously by Blair, triggered the unravelling of the status quo in the Middle East, resulting in so much misery and death."

This is the same Michael Gove who is charged with directing the education of the young and during the brief reign of this minority government is nevertheless hurrying through radical change, and (I suspect) using Ofsted as his battering-ram to denigrate schools in areas of social deprivation and force their conversion into "academies". He and his colleagues remind me of the episode of "Bottom" in which Adrian Edmondson proposes to break into the off-licence and drink as much as they can before the police arrive.

This is a controlling government that is out of control, and the sooner it goes, the better.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

China is the whale of shale

As I was reading Richard Heinberg's "Snake Oil" the following jumped off the page: "shale gas resources in China exceed even those of the United States".

An article from Caixin Online reproduced on MarketWatch agrees:

"A 2011 report by the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimated total world shale gas reserves that are exploitable using today’s technology at 189 trillion cubic meters. Of that, 36.1 trillion cubic meters are in China, making it the world leader in shale gas reserves.

"In 2011, the MLR launched an investigation into potential shale gas reserves. The results indicated China had 25 trillion cubic meters of developable reserves, slightly more than the United States’ 24 trillion."
 
Heinberg distinguishes between "resources" (what is there) and "reserves" (what can be physically and profitably recovered). There are sharp differences of opinion about the latter - the US EIA estimated last year that there were 482 trillion cubic feet (=13.65 trillion cu. m.) of "technically recoverable" gas in the United States. Not 24 trillion, then - but the economics may change as demand increases and stocks are used up.
 
Still, China has a massive amount to exploit and this is on top of having the world's third-largest proven recoverable reserves of coal.

Per capita, China's coal and gas are much less than America's, since the former's population is four times larger. Nevertheless, she is motivated  to develop these resources, given the high cost of global energy prices compared to her domestic wage rates, and her desire for greater energy security. China is also more likely to be able to exploit these resources quickly, given relatively less stringent environmental protection. Further, I understand from other reading that the way the carbon trading market has been set up makes it easier for China to get credits for reducing pollution from energy plants, since she starts from a lower basis than is expected from already-more-efficient Western nations; and she will quickly acquire the knowhow, one way or another.

Another point Heinberg makes is that energy-exporting nations begin to use more themselves as their economies become wealthier, so that if global energy reserves fail to increase in line with global demand, the USA and UK (and others) are likely to suffer supply problems and rising costs. As the ancient Greek saying goes, "There is no borrowing a sword in time of war."

By the way, I shouldn't be surprised to learn sometime in the future about regional unrest in China as well-connected cliques seize or swindle mineral rights from villagers, just as they have grabbed land for the crazy speculative residential and leisure developments of the past few years.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

The bacterial threat to civilisation

Archdruid Report writer John Michael Greer highlights another major threat to our way of life - the evolution of bacteria (emphases and paragraphing mine):

"In the case of the spread of antibiotic resistance among microbes, there are at least three patterns at work.

"First, microbes are being selected for their resistance to individual antibiotics.

"Second, as new antibiotics are brought out to replace old ones, microbes are being selected for their ability to develop resistance to one antibiotic after another as quickly as possible.

"Finally, the pressure exerted on the entire microbial biosphere by the pervasive presence of antibiotics in the modern environment is giving a huge selective advantage to species that have the ability to exchange genes for resistance with other species."

This fits in with Greer's long-running theme, which is that when "Man" sets himself against Nature, Nature will win. Whether we consider antibiotics or fossil fuels, quick fixes are not permanent fixes. All we have done is multiplied our numbers and developed a style of living in a way that is unsustainable.

We need to balance the principle of efficiency with that of ability to survive. Crowding into cities and depending on resource distribution grids overseen by computers makes us increasingly vulnerable to natural and man-made catastrophe.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nick Clegg is a balloon without the rubber

Imagine that you are a senior officer in HM Armed Forces, seated with your colleagues around the table in the war room. The agenda is to discuss the following brief, assigned to you by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg:

"The murder of innocent men, women and children through the use of chemical weapons is a repugnant crime and a flagrant abuse of international law, and if we stand idly by we set a very dangerous precedent indeed, where brutal dictators and brutal rulers will feel they can get away with using chemical weapons on a larger and larger scale in the future. These are weapons which were used on a large scale in the First World War, banned back in the 1920s, so all we're considering is a serious response to that.

"What we're not considering is regime change, try [sic] to topple the Assad regime, trying to settle the civil war in Syria one way or another. That needs to be settled through a political process. We're not considering an open-ended military intervention with boots on the ground like we saw in Iraq.

"What is being considered is measures which are legal, which are proportionate, and which are specific to discouraging and sending out a clear signal that the use of chemical weapons in this day and age is simply intolerable."

You have not yet been shown any evidence that the recent gas attack was in fact initiated by a brutal dictator / ruler, and you are not required to determine the matter.

You are now tasked with discouraging further such attacks, by anyone, without taking sides in the Syrian civil war, or in any way helping to overthrow the present government of Syria. You may not permit British "boots on the ground" there, and must at all times ensure that your interventions are legal and proportionate, so that HMG and yourselves personally can avoid being prosecuted afterwards. The committee is expected to submit detailed proposals to the Cabinet with the utmost despatch. Biscuits are limited and there will be no refills of coffee.

The use of deniable irregulars, such as Tinker Bell, may be considered.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Walking with a sat nav

Traditional walkers who favour big leather boots and hairy socks still seem to look down on satellite navigation for walkers. Yet bit by bit the practical value of these remarkable products of the electronic age are creeping up on us.

So I recently bought one.

My gadget, from Satmap, isn’t quite the same as a sat nav designed for cars in that it knows nothing of footpaths and how to walk from A to B without getting lost. Instead it has a GPS location map linked to another map such as a digital version of a standard OS map. So basically, the thing is an electronic map which records your route and shows your current position. It does far more of course, but that’s the pared down nuts and bolts of the thing.

In fact there are numerous extras such as a compass, altimeter and facilities for geotagging photos, not all of which I’m likely to use, but modern gadgets are prone to include a host of unwanted frills and I'm used to ignoring the bits I don’t find useful.

My wife and I originally saw the capabilities of these devices while walking the Cumbria Way with a small band of pensioners from our local Ramblers group.

The Cumbria Way is a lovely walk and not at all difficult for reasonably fit walkers. Our route covered eighty five miles in six day. Even though it is a reasonably well marked national route there were quite a few occasions when our leader found his sat nav very useful, in spite of being an experienced walker leading a group of experienced walkers.

For me, the sat nav has three main advantages over a paper map. 
  • I am able to record walks such as those organised by my local Ramblers Association.
  • A large number of walks can be downloaded from a variety of internet sources.
  • I know where we are when the path is unclear. 
As an example of the last point, we recently found ourselves unsure of the right path while walking in Somerset. Apparently confronted with two paths skirting a large field of wheat, our book of local walks said to take the right hand path. Fair enough – off we went.

However, the sat nav soon showed that we were deviating from the OS footpath, so we retraced our steps and soon discovered a signpost to a third path buried in the hedge. Maybe this meant the middle path was the right hand path referred to in our guide?

Wrong again according to the sat nav.

In the end it became obvious that the OS path went straight through the field of wheat but walkers simply skirted the field and rejoined the official path on the other side. The sat nav showed that this was indeed the right conclusion.

Okay – it would have been easy enough to work this out with a paper map, but the sat nav showed us we were going wrong after about fifty feet or so – no messing about looking for landmarks and no need to dig out the compass. Once we’d reached to other side of the wheat field, it also confirmed that we were back on the right path.

Even so, I don’t use the thing without a paper map unless the walk is one I’m familiar with, but the sat nav comes out far more often than the paper map these days.

An additional benefit is that it records miles walked, average speed, time spent actually walking and total ascents.

The last one is a little misleading, because a recorded total ascent of say 2000 feet does not necessarily imply a stiff climb or two. Instead it is the sum total of all the undulations of the whole walk which may have been somewhat less strenuous than a figure of 2000 feet appears to suggest.

In the end, the gadget is a digital map, a GPS system, a route recording system and access to a library of walks on the internet - all neatly packaged in one device. It makes walking life easier and I think a little more enjoyable.

Will these gadgets get more people walking though? Maybe - they do work rather well.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Liberty and cannabis

Go ask Alice.


Quite by chance, while flicking through the many TV channels in search of something, anything, that wasn't cheap drivel, I stumbled partway through a BBC This World programme, "America's Stoned Kids", presented by addiction expert Professor John Marsden. He was looking at Colorado's experiment in legalising the growing of cannabis plants for medical use, and the development of THC-infused products.

Showing him around a factory that manufactured a confectionery-like edible dose that packed the drug punch of a dozen joints into something that resembled a little coconut pyramid, the owner boasted that the company's capital value had just soared by $200 million. He was most put out when the professor asked him why the medicine had been made to look so attractive to children, but (unless it had been edited out) didn't hasten to repudiate any such intention.

There was also a soft-drink-like bottle that contained the equivalent of something like 24 spliffs. The official line was that it was a multi-dose product to be consumed over several days, but the MD easily agreed that many would drink it all in one go, and some would have more than one bottle at a time.

The last section of the programme featured a visit to a rehabilitation camp for teenagers, out in the mountains, and despite the self-knowledge gained from their months-long stay, it was obvious that a number would relapse shortly after returning to mainstream society. They understood that the drug was their enemy - it had started as an occasional joint, and inevitably progressed to one every two waking hours - but they weren't going to be able to hold out against opportunity, social pressure and the internal emotional turmoil that was looking for quick temporary relief.

The desire to indulge ourselves leads to much twisted argument. For example, some say we should legalise cannabis because of the suffering caused by criminals in the drug trade, but for those who are so compassionate the obvious direct solution is not to consume the drug. Others try to limit discussion of the potential harm, to the likelihood of psychosis or cancer or whatever, glossing over the damage caused to youngsters by their losing energy, initiative and clarity of mind in the very years when they should be finding their economic place in the adult world, not to mention forming social relationships.

Libertarian hardliners will take the absolutist existential line about being essentially free, and deny the philosophical implications of addiction, the subconscious and the conflicting drives within us. They will say that what they choose to do has nothing to do with anybody else, even though there are indeed wider social and financial consequences of an individual's decision to gratify himself.

I have tried before now to sketch out a map of liberty. The kind for which (for example) Americans fought the War of Independence, or the struggle against the Nazi menace, or Greece's liberation from the Ottoman Empire (and her resistance to the current subjugation by the new European Empire) has very little to do with consumerist self-addling. In my view, liberty is in danger of being trivialised by the aggressively slack-willed and self-ignorant, rationalising their weakness, selfishness and lack of self-control.

On the individual level of freedom, I find the Buddhist analysis persuasive. We can spend our entire lives fighting to break out of our attachments - I do - and those that succeed spend the rest of their time trying not to fall back into the traps, as well as helping others who want to escape. This would be a worthier (and less self-deluding) mission for the libertarian.

Will there be any reply from the Toking Taliban?

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fukushima radiation: "Don't buy Pacific fish"

One of John Ward's scientific correspondents tells him:

"I would also advise your Sloggers, not to buy fish products, salmon, tuna, sushi from the Pacific: as the Caesium plume spreads, the chances of ingesting contaminated fish will grow, and it will be interesting to ascertain what measures government is taking in this regard….”

Back in May, BBC News reported how Pacific tuna have absorbed radioactive material in their oceanic wanderings. The reporter was at pains to say that the fish were still safe to eat. There are further reports here.

I am less inclined to accept scientific reassurances than I used to be. I recall how the UK nuclear reactor at Windscale (since renamed Sellafield to shake off poisonous memories) was thought to be safe, and local schoolchildren would sometimes go up to the site to led condensation droplets fall into their mouths. Later, perhaps after the fire there that was covered up, scientists moved their children away from the nearby school but did it quietly, so as not to scare the general populace. I'm sorry, but although I recall the information I can't now find the references to back this up. The main point is, we don't always know how safe things are and when concerns develop we commoners are not kept abreast.

There are reports of fish - Pacific herring - bleeding from eyes and gills. Now this may have nothing to do with radiation (think of the great swirling garbage patches - there's more than one - in the oceans, and stretches of oxygen-depleted and algae-covered sea); or if there is a connection, it may be indirect, like the way that pesticides may weaken the defences of bees, rather than killing them outright.

A core issue is our degree of trust in the openness and competence of governments and scientific agencies.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Carl Hiaasen's green mischief

http://arthistory.about.com/od/from_exhibitions/ig/arcimboldo_paris/gaml1007_15.htm

If you haven't read Carl Hiaasen (and he's not yet well-known here in the UK) I hope you will. Much of the best and most original postwar writing in English has come from the US - I defy anyone to name a British writer to stand next to Thomas Pynchon, for example. Maybe it's that America is less hung up on its cultural heritage (having so many), maybe it's simply the literary efflorescence that accompanies economic and military expansion as it did in Elizabethan England, I don't know.

But things that grow also decay, and Hiaasen's very funny crime novels are a symbolic organic revenge for property developers' depredations in his beloved Floridian wetlands. He's attacked the Disney Corporation in Team Rodent (1998).

His viscerally-felt objections are partly ecological, partly moral, but also aesthetic. The developers are merely crass, gripped by a nearsighted obsession with money, and as long as they turn over the cash and get out that's all they care about. The retirees who flock South are similarly dumb and disconnected from their environment; for them, a condo close to the Everglades is like one in New York, just warmer in winter. A long-brewed reckoning awaits them all.

In the book I've just (re)read, Double Whammy, the arch-enemy is a ratbag TV preacher who has sunk his profits in a disastrous residential complex pierced by canals ("lakes", he angrily reminds his salesmen) which he hope will be a selling feature for keen bass catchers, but which for historical land-use reasons turn out to be nearly as toxic as Love Canal.

But Nature is fighting back, not least because it has recruited a former State Governor who has despaired of resisting the forces of capitalism and gone wild, living in the forest and only sallying forth to harvest roadkill for his dinners. In this book, he loses an eye in a fight and replaces it with one from a stuffed owl; in another, his long hair becomes braided Indian-style, with eagle claws hanging from the ends.

Even the lesser villains are mutating in the vicinity of nonhuman life, with which (as we now know) we share so many genes. Here, a kidnapper kills a pitbull and unable to remove its death-locked jaws from his arm, simply cuts off the head and carries on. When he and his victim pass through a traffic tollbooth, the changetaker calmly expresses her regret that she hasn't any Milk Bones to offer the creature; for in Florida, anything can happen and Man is beginning to forget his distinctive nature.

Hiaasen has a writer's fascination with language, which like the nearby primeval landscape burgeons beyond our ability to grasp it all. In the midst of his scorn for the daftness of fishing competitions, he gives us this rococo recital of its commercial artefacts:

"As was everything in Dennis Gault's tournament artillery, his bass lures were brand new. For top-water action he had stocked up on Bang-O-Lures, Shad Raps, Slo Dancers, Hula Poppers, and Zara Spooks; for deep dredging he had armed himself with Wee Warts and Whopper Stoppers and the redoubtable Lazy Ike. For brushpiles he had unsheathed the Jig-N-Pig and Double Whammy, the Bayou Boogle and Eerie Dearie, plus a rainbow trove of Mister Twisters. As for that most reliable of bass rigs, the artificial worm, Dennis Gault had amassed three gooey pounds. He had caught fish on every color, so he packed them all: the black-grape crawdad, the smoke-sparkle lizard, the flip-tail purple daddy, the motor-oil moccasin, the blueberry gollywhomper, everything."

Wonderful. And best of all, good triumphs over evil.

It's escapism, naturally. As Oscar Wilde said, "It was the imagination that set remorse to dog the feet of sin. It was the imagination that made each crime bear its misshapen brood. In the common world of fact the wicked were not punished, nor the good rewarded. Success was given to the strong, failure thrust upon the weak. That was all."

But in stimulating our imagination, perhaps Hiaasen's gonzo tales and misshapen brood are preparing us to take the side of the angels, or at least that of the more enigmatic Green Man.

http://www.vosper4coins.co.uk/stone/GreenMan_files/GreenMan.htm

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Chris Ryan's "Killing for the Company"

Until not so many years ago, I naively took the view that fiction was made up and non-fiction was true. I now realize that much fiction is dangerous truth smuggled past the guards.

Chris Ryan's 2011 novel shows the usual expertise gained from his time in the SAS, and his characters shoot and stab (and are killed) with believable detail. I read this type of thing as a vicarious thrill, but perhaps also to inure myself somewhat to the horror of what humans do to each other. It's a sort of cognitive dissonance: imagining the awfulness so that I can be reassured that it won't happen to me and mine in reality.

But Ryan's books, blood-soaked though they are, don't seem to inhabit a completely bleak moral universe. This may be to do with the heart of the man: when Ryan called his wife after his escape from Iraq, almost the first thing he said was "I've done a terrible thing," referring to his having had to kill two people during his solitary flight through the desert. The profession of arms is a tough one, but soldiers can still have a conscience, even if they look at religion sideways. I get the feeling that Andy McNab manages to keep the side doors of his mind shut a little tighter, though his references to the incidence of suicide among some of his fellows, and to the need for the psychological counselling that is more easily available to American Special Forces, suggests that many who do what they have to do find difficulty in preventing emotional leakage from those shut rooms.

It's said that psychopaths do understand how other people think and feel; what makes them so dangerous is that they don't care. There are two such in this book. One is a female Mossad agent who kills man, woman and child without the slightest compunction. The other is a British Prime Minister called Stratton, who holds secret meetings with an American arms manufacturer and undertakes to get his country involved in the Iraq conflict. Years later, we see him as a peace envoy to the Middle East, with more hidden plans and connexions. Throughout the book, he shows a quick perception of others and a superficially charming manner, but has a mood that turns on a sixpence. And he's a first-class God-botherer with a messianic ego and millenarian enthusiasm.

Events come to a head in 2013, in a Middle East becoming unstable and with Western powers preparing for imminent direct military involvement.

I can't say whether Stratton is simply a great fictional villain, playing to the prejudices of many of the readership, or whether the writer has a genuine dislike for those who give the orders but never wield the knife or gun themselves. I felt that the work was climbing over the border fence of fiction.

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Perranporth


Perranporth, between St Agnes and Newquay on the north coast, is named after St Piran, one of the patron saints of Cornwall. He is said to have been flung by pagan Irish into the sea with a millstone around his neck, but miraculously floated. I have read a more secular explanation, which is that he came over in a light boat - a coracle? - and the millstone was placed in the bottom as ballast to provide stability in the choppy seas. What mystifies me more is why numbers of missionaries came over from Ireland in the Dark Ages, and why they waited until the Romans had left, when Rome's official religion had been Christian for well over a century. Perhaps King Arthur invited them.

The flag of St Piran - a white cross on a black background, sported by so many tourists' cars, is said by some to represent the melting of white tin out of a black stone in Piran's hearth. Again, I think we underestimate the ancients. I don't believe glass was accidentally discovered by Phoenicians lighting a beach fire, either. If our forefathers had been dumb but lucky then at some point they would have run out of luck and we wouldn't be here. Even the invention of bread remains something of a mystery, when you consider how many processes are required to turn wheat into something edible. I believe there were proto-scientists and technologists much longer ago than we flatter ourselves to think.


It was a beautiful morning when we arrived, and the beach was packed. What with striped windbreaks and mini-tents, the British seaside looks like a cheerful refugee encampment these days.

Parking is tight and a bit expensive on the seafront, but if you turn off a little way uphill, into Wheal Leisure Car Park, you may be lucky. There's loos there and a pedestrian shortcut down to the shops.

We had lunch at the Pavilion Boatshed on the beach approach. It has stylish décor and the chef knows how to cook fish.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Resistance is use...ful

http://www.railway-technical.com/diesel.shtml

UKIP leader Nigel Farage caused a stir some days ago when he said that violent protest might be the only way southern European countries could save their democracies. I interpret his comments as a warning rather than a call to arms, and he has said this sort of thing to the European Parliament before now. The horrified reaction of some people might better be directed at those Western powers who vigorously encouraged revolution in Libya and have recently been subverting the government of Syria, to the great harm of many of its people.

Alternatively, Farage's critics could be consistent in a different way, by upholding the right of people here to demonstrate in rowdy ways when their voices are otherwise ignored - or at least, to show some understanding of why it happens. Have we so soon forgotten the Poll Tax Riots of 1990?

In the eighteenth century, when MPs came from boroughs with an electorate of as few as three voters and most men and all women were disenfranchised, and when the Riot Act of 1714 included the death penalty for serious damage to property, there were still occasions on which crowds would run through Whitehall breaking windows to show their displeasure, or (for example) surround Pitt the Younger's carriage shouting "Bread, bread!". Conversely, when things were going right they could show their approval directly, as when cheering men detached the Prime Minister's horses from his carriage, put themselves between the shafts and pulled him home.

Now, Downing Street is gated and guarded, and the noise of protest must not reach the leader's ears. Try to make a point by parking your truck outside, or even just reading the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq, and you will be swiftly arrested. Often what is done in the name of security or public order is merely about preventing embarrassment to the powerful. Think of Brian Haw, who camped outside Parliament for ten years to shame the occupants about the Iraq war, and the squalid effort to silence him by using a new Act of Parliament (SOCA, 2005) - which he successfully overcame because his demonstration had started before the Act came into being. This shabby attempt should be periodically publicised as a standing reproof to MPs.

The fact is that when democracy is broken, people will find other ways than the vote to register their views. It's far from ideal, and the electoral reforms of 1832 and later were supposed to give a voice to the gagged; but if Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is ineffective (if not actually in agreement with the government of the day, e.g. on the European Union), then a dangerous pressure will build up in the machine.

Unfortunately, the cyber-spy society in which we live has enormously strengthened the ability of the powers-that-be to monitor and suppress dissent, and they don't like information being used in the opposite direction. Like Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have all annoyed governments by shining a light on the latter's filthier activities. Ellsberg was lucky, as it turned out: he got support from the Press, and an Alaskan Senator who put 4,100 pages of the secret documents onto the public record, and many of the public were behind him in his opposition to the Vietnam War. But the rulers have learned since then, and know how to frighten and confuse us so that we don't make the same kind of fuss on behalf of modern whistle-blowers.

And as for mass demonstration and direct physical intervention! Even the critics of the government are conflicted. For example, "Archbishop Cranmer" yesterday deplored fracking protestors' "claimed right to break the law; to enforce where they cannot persuade, for [...] the ordinary rules of democracy cannot apply to them." Yet today he observes, "A modern, secular democracy provides for no peaceful means [for the people to withdraw their consent], especially since differences among mainstream parties are fading away."

To those who govern us, silencing the people may seem like a good thing, but in the long run it is like a dried pea stuck in the escape valve of the pressure cooker, or an engine without a governor: the failure of proper feedback allows the machine to become dysfunctional to the point of self-destruction. Effective opposition makes the system work better; if only the Opposition understood.

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Charlestown, St Austell

If you're around St Austell or passing through, Charlestown is certainly worth a visit. It has visual beauty, historical interest (especially for those who have a nautical bent) and a number of good places to eat and drink.


The place was a commercial development started in 1790 by Charles Rashleigh, to cater for the export of the copper mined nearby (and later, the clay). In ten years or so the harbour, storage rooms and workers' houses were all built together out of local granite, so there is a quiet grey architectural harmony about the place.


The Rashleigh name recurs in this part of south Cornwall. The family were merchants who bought the manor of Trenant (near Fowey) when that disastrous spendthrift Henry VIII dissolved (and sold) the monasteries. This didn't do the royal finances much good, because a great part of the cash had to be used to support the people who'd been turned out; but it was a Big Bang for money-minded Protestants and their descendants' terror of losing it all again is reflected in the 1688 Bill of Rights, itself the inspiration for the American Constitution.

At any rate, in Charlestown you have the Rashleigh Arms - good for a family meal in wood/brass/carpet surroundings; the cobbled car park is a feature, though it may test your car's suspension a bit. (In nearby Polkerris there is the Rashleigh Inn, right by the beach; and the Ship Inn in Fowey also used to be a Rashleigh family property. They're all good, as it happens.) And for the younger crowd, there's a couple of dockside café/wine bars that have a more modern décor.

But our favourite is the Harbourside Inn (at the Pier House Hotel). The food is good, some of the furniture converted from oak barrels, there's a window seat if you get in early enough, and the local beers are excellent. Most of all, the ambience is friendly and unstuffy. Behind the bar is one of those people who turn their work into art; his movement and multitasking are like a kata for engaging several opponents and he clearly enjoys the buzz of business. It's a treat to watch him. Popular on the taps when we went were the disgracefully logoed (this should cure Americans of thinking the British are reserved) Cornish Knocker and Sharp's Special - both flavoursome, but Doom Bar is what the manager rightly calls a "session" ale.

Something else not to miss is the Shipwreck & Heritage Centre. Divers will be particularly interested in the section on old diving equipment, including the heavy helmeted suits and an eighteenth century precursor made out of wood, but the range of exhibits is impressive and entertaining.

It's possible to walk along the coast in either direction, to Porthpean and Polkerris and beyond. Or one could visit either and end up in Charlestown for lunch or an evening meal.

To conclude, here are a couple of Youtube videos of Charlestown and the path from Polkerris to Charlestown, beautifully shot (you may want to mute the music):





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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cities - greener and safer than the countryside?

We tend to think of cities as dirty and dangerous, but both these perceptions may need qualification.

In a book published earlier this year, William Meyers argues that although high-density population areas consume a great deal of energy, per capita energy consumption is higher in extra-urban areas, and drops as population density rises.

He accepts that cities pollute, but "the world’s worst air pollution anywhere is in rural areas. It’s in rural areas in the third world, and it’s indoor air pollution. It’s because rural areas depend upon smoky biomass fuels, so you get higher levels of that kind of pollution indoors in rural areas. You breathe it in very directly. It’s the biggest contribution to air pollution doses for people, but it’s not visible." Rural pollution from burning wood and coal was a major contributor to the huge smog in the region around Beijing in January.

Similarly, a 2005 paper by Brian Christens and Paul W. Speer (pdf) suggests the incidence of violent crime is negatively correlated with population density. Their study, centred on Nashville, Tennessee, concluded that not only was it a factor, but "this environmental characteristic – population density – predicted more of the variance in violent crime than the majority of the other population  characteristics in the model."

There are other considerations that may affect one's choice of where to live, such as vulnerability to disruption of services; but ceteris paribus, it seems city living could be the beneficial model for the future. 

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Porthpean Beach

The couple on the next table at the B&B told us they'd spent the day there and enjoyed it, so we gave it the once-over. Porthpean Beach is less than a mile down a winding lane off St Austell's A390 ring road.

Map: Google Maps (search "Porthpean Sailing Club")

It's a small sandy beach, secluded and facing south-east so that it enjoys the sun most of the time. Vehicles aren't allowed on during the day, and the car park across the road is only £2 (with an honesty box for when the booth is unoccupied) - rabbits included.


The café was closed by the time we got there, but a group was burning some food on a disposable barbecue and children pattered about on the sand. The sailing club overlooks it and as it was after 6 pm, a car was reversing its trailer into the waves to release a dinghy.


It looks a good place for bucket and spade, as well as for older types to lollygag. When thirst calls, there's a footpath by the club that goes over the cliff to Charlestown, which has several of the nicest pubs in St Austell.


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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hashish hoo-ha hots up

And now Lee Child adds his weight to the cannabis legalisation lobby:

‘I’ve been smoking weed for 44 years, five nights a week,’ the author confessed. ‘I’m the poster boy to prove it doesn’t do you much harm.'

Yes, he is a successful writer, with compelling powers of description. I've read a number of his novels and the best for me was 61 Hours, set in the bitterness of a South Dakota winter. The cold and snow are major characters in the book, realized with extraordinary precision. I recall how at one point "spicules" of ice are blowing into Reacher's face and when he enters a house and warms up his visage is all bloody.

But smoking weed doesn't make you a great author, any more than hurling bags of empty whisky bottles into Sepulveda Canyon turns you into Scott Fitzgerald, or poking your fingers up your wife's nose and half-throttling her makes you a millionaire art patron.


Also, it's a bit chicken and egg, but Child's glittering prose covers a cold, cold underneath. Even as you read his work spellbound, you are aware of the utter bleakness, darkness and hopelessness at its core. He says he writes for angry people, and his first book was composed in spitting fury against those who sacked him from Granada TV. Now whether it's that type that turns to "bud", or the causal relationship is the other way round, I don't know. It's well-known that alcohol can induce temporary or longer-lasting changes in character, and maybe the cannabis has firmed up Child's laser-sharp vision and starved heart. All I know is that his books are a habit I have to break, a thought that came to me before he made his drug revelation.

Like the one about climate change, the drugs debate is so polarised that it's more like rival gangs of football hooligans howling at each other. And it misses the real issue, which is how things get decided.

Popularity is one factor, hence the watershed release from the law's clutches of Keith Richard and Mick Jagger in 1967. The general millenarian mood among the young at that time was such that the Beatles felt they had to disassociate themselves from it the following year with their song "Revolution". Their influence could so easily have been used to spark a full-on revolt; I remember feeling disappointed, betrayed. Now, I feel thank goodness. They could have been the Pied Pipers for a suicidal anti-establishment Children's Crusade.

The bigger factor is power cliques. I think it's uncontroversial to say that we have a sham democracy and events are determined by a very small minority, the rest of us clucking away impotently. Otherwise, how do you explain the way our MPs feather their own nests while imposing austerity on the masses and robbing savers and pensioners blind with inflation and low interest rates?


Similarly, the elite who developed a drugs habit in the Sixties and Seventies have social and financial safety nets that aren't available to the poor, and Peter Hitchens is right to point out that they are shaping public policy simply to make it more comfortable for themselves, so that they don't have to put "Watch Out - There's A Fuzz About!" stickers on their study doors.

Like alcohol, marijuana is certainly pernicious for some, and perhaps not for others. There's also the question of how socially acceptable drugs are socially controlled. Lawrence Durrell's "Bitter Lemons" recounts how the old men would smoke dope under the Tree of Idleness in Kyrenia - but this was not for the young and the working population to do all day. And Carlos Castaneda's books about drug initiation in Mexico are cast in the mode of psychic pilgrimage and exploration, not daily casual use.

But to come back to the main point, it's not what I think that matters, or what you think; it's what they think, the people who currently run politics and the media - and business, doubtless with a grinning Richard Branson hopping impatiently from foot to foot to get started on the marketing campaign for Virgin Spliffs or whatever. The powers-that-be have overseen an explosion in gambling and loansharking, they've progressively loosened the leash on the beast alcohol since the 1960s, and legally available "soft" drugs are a-coming, like it or not, good thing or not. The news stories and celeb interjections are just part of the softening-up process.

As ever, the real drivers in the "debate" are power and money, and they'll tell you you're exercising your freedom as you bind yet another chain around yourself.

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Totnes: Cats Cafe


"I'll bring your coffee and then you can meet the staff," said the proprietress to my wife. There are six of them: a big black tom who lives under the counter, a woolly ginger who spend most of his time stretched full-length on his favourite chair, a b&w with a tail shortened by mishap (yet still named Felix), Glee the torty, a pretty grey-and-white affair called Lilac and Rolo, a bluish tabby whose favourite game is Scrabble "(especially in the litter tray)", as the profile scrapbook reveals.

Out came the cat treats for the customers to offer, and up came the staff, all cupboard love. This is when I entered the café, via the door-release airlock that seals in the workers until home time. Mango the ginger hardly stirred as I stroked his head; Lilac and Glee competed for the cat biscuits in the plastic containers we held.

Another lady sat next to my wife and we compared the cats we had owned, and how long they had lived; she now had five of them. She was a little disappointed at the obviously ulterior motives of the ménage here, but as I explained, they didn't know us from Adam.

I sipped my tea and glanced through the second book, full of cuttings about the therapeutic benefits of cats. We are such a valetudinarian lot these days, are we not; even sex is to be performed for the sake of your health. I simply like cats - and dogs, and so on.

But as the posters in the window informed passers-by, cats' cafes started in Japan for high-rise dwellers who couldn't keep pets. Cat lovers, the Japanese: Hello Kitty started there, and Maneki-neko, the lucky waving cat (I have one myself). I asked the owner how she had selected her team. She said she'd previously run a hotel-cum-cats' rescue and so had had the opportunity to assess their temperaments.

Children can't come in - because of insurance ("the White Man's Burden", as the Goon Show called it). Some visitors have asked if the café is for bringing their own cats; that would be something to see: even in a Pupil Referral Unit, group dynamics change radically whenever someone joins or leaves. The experience of a bring-your-own-cat playgroup would certainly be educational. Perhaps the café could charge corkage (or Korky-age, for Dandy readers).

We cleaned ourselves with the alcohol hand sanitizers and left, but we'll be back.

http://www.totnescatscafe.org.uk/

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Best pasty in Cornwall

Photo: BBC

While we waited for the minibus to take us from the field to Trevaunance Cove, I saw one of the parking stewards contentedly eating a pasty (end first; I'd heard that the Cornish miners used to eat the middle and throw away the grimed crust, but our hands are cleaner these days). I asked him, "What's the best pasty in Cornwall?"

"The best one in St Agnes is from the bakery, by the church." And so it was, as we found later. Or at any rate, it was excellent, even if we hadn't tried any other outlets there. And the cake slices looked dangerously good, and large.

But in the whole of Cornwall? Barnecutts in Bodmin, he replied, his mate adding that it was the best of the reasonably-priced ones. Even better, the men agreed, was Aunty Avice's, made "at the back of a garage" in St Kew. It sounded like Jeremy Clarkson's ideal sports car manufacturer, a couple of blokes bashing metal in a unit on an industrial estate.

Then we got onto the bespoke ones. One woman would "go mad" if you dared use any sauce with hers; though he agreed you should have a lot of pepper in the mix. Wikipedia mentions a combination sweet and savoury version formerly eaten in Anglesey, but Cornwall does them, too: my former co-worker Gary from Wadebridge was asked to bring one of his mum's pasties back for a mate in Birmingham, and she made one of these combos that was so big it filled the back shelf of the car.

Pasties are taken seriously, and this year the Eden Project hosted the second World Pasty Championships. In the company category, the winner was from Bath; but the runners-up from St Just and Scorrier, both in Cornwall. Among individuals, Cornishman Billy Deakin from Mount Hawke won the amateur title for the second year running, while the three top professionals came from Bodmin and Padstow. ThisIsCornwall ran a story featuring five leading makers at the time, back in February.

According to the Cornish Pasty Association,

"A genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive ‘D’ shape and is crimped on one side, never on top. The texture of the filling for the pasty is chunky, made up of uncooked minced or roughly cut chunks of beef (not less than 12.5%), swede, potato and onion and a light peppery seasoning.

"The pastry casing is golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and robust enough to retain its shape throughout the cooking and cooling process without splitting or cracking. The whole pasty is slow-baked to ensure that flavours from the raw ingredients are maximised. No flavourings or additives must be used. And, perhaps most importantly, it must also be made in Cornwall."

That last point is borne out by EC Regulation 510/2006 (pdf), which drew unhappy comment from manufacturers outside the county. But it's no more than DOCG for Italian wines and cheeses, and I rate Cornish pasties as a similarly fine, characteristic regional product.

The nicest we've had is a steak pasty from the snack shop opposite Fowey ferry car park - really succulent, with a rich, thick gravy. Made in town, we were told. Don't know if that counts as a traditional Cornish pasty, but so what.

Our researches continue.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Nomad

Richard Dadd: Caravan Halted By The Sea Shore (1843)


Pounding up the packed M5 yesterday, I noticed that caravans are like a red rag to a bull for the rest of us drivers, even if they're doing a good speed. But I also used one or two in the middle lane as markers to see if staying in the outside lane is better than switching to whichever queue seems to be making better progress; it is.

And as I drove, I wondered whether there is a Best Place. Cornwall and Devon are so lovely, so do the people who live there go elsewhere on their holidays, and if so, why and where? You could do an experiment, perhaps using information from travel agents: find out where the majority in one location take their breaks, then go to that place and see where the locals take theirs, and so on. Would you end up somewhere that is perfect, or simply so poor that the natives don't go abroad? Would you end up back where you started? Would the trek never end?

Perhaps it is not so much about venturing into the unknown, as escape from the known. Gertrude Stein: "What was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there."

Richard Dadd: Artist's Halt In The Desert By Moonlight

Arabs - the Bedouin kind - have long caught the British imagination. Like birds, they seem free. Some of the happiest-looking photographs of the SAS are taken when they're wearing their shemaghs, and the first couple of lines of the following quote from James Elroy Flecker's "Hassan" appear on the memorial Clock Tower at 22 SAS' Stirling Lines base in Hereford:

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
          Always a little further; it may be
        Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
          Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
        White on a throne or guarded in a cave
          There lies a prophet who can understand
        Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
          Who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

I suspect that Flecker originally wrote the scene as a stand-alone tribute to the heart's desire for the journey without end or final purpose, like Tennyson's Ulysses, and only afterwards turned it into a drama (all the rest is in prose).

And so, with regret, passing Gormley's awful Willow Man at Bridgwater (now thankfully dwarfed by the massive, gaudy-green decorated shed of the Morrisons depot) we took the Golden Road back to Birmingham, intending to return to the West Country as soon as possible.

CORRECTION: Not Gormley - Serena de la Hey. Apologies to both.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Polluting the climate

There are a number of more or less feasible ways in which humans may influence climate, both locally and globally.

An interesting theory published by Professor Qing-Bin Lu back in May makes the claim that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) once widely used as refrigerants, cleansers, aerosol propellants and foam-blowing agents may have affected the climate as greenhouse gases as well as damaging the ozone layer.

The chemistry and physics behind CFC-induced ozone layer damage are fairly well established, although Professor Lu thinks the ozone-destroying reactions are initiated by cosmic rays rather than the usual explanation based on solar uv photolysis.

Whatever the initiating pathway to ozone damage, the Montreal Protocolcame into being in 1989 and appears to have been successful in controlling and reducing the use of CFCs linked to that damage.

However, Professor Lu claims that those same CFCs also warmed our climate because they happen to be powerful greenhouse gases.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are to blame for global warming since the 1970s and not carbon dioxide, according to new research from the University of Waterloo published in the International Journal of Modern Physics B.

CFCs are already known to deplete ozone, but in-depth statistical analysis now shows that CFCs are also the key driver in global climate change, rather than carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

So we have yet another climate theory, but an interesting one because it seeks to account for both the late twentieth century warming from about 1970 to 2002 and also the recent warming hiatus from about 2002 to the present, data which the CO2 theory fails to explain. According to Professor Lu, as we phased out those CFCs, the warming stalled in spite of a continued rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Although the paper received some publicity at the time, such as here, here, here and here, it now appears to have sunk below the mainstream horizon. Which is a pity, because if nothing else Professor Lu’s work suggests we are some way from understanding basic climate drivers, let alone classifying them in order of importance.

In climate science, the elephant in the room is surely uncertainty.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Would you notice?

From Bloomberg Businessweek

Xerox is now saying that some of its scanners can alter numbers in documents, even at the highest resolution setting. It blames a software bug for which it does not yet have a fix. “We continue to work tirelessly and diligently to develop a software patch to address the problem,” the company said in an Aug. 11 statement.

The problem came to light when German computer scientist David Kriesel scanned a construction plan on a Xerox machine and noticed that it changed numbers on some of the room measurements.


Would you notice such a thing? I'm not sure I would.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

UK carbon capture

Click Green reports:-
 
National Grid has successfully completed test drilling of a carbon dioxide storage site in the North Sea – a major milestone in delivering a storage solution for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

Early indications are that the undersea site 65 kilometres off the Yorkshire coast is viable for carbon dioxide storage and will be able to hold around 200 million tonnes permanently. This is equivalent to taking ten million cars off the road for 10 years.

The drilling is a major milestone in its Don Valley storage work programme funded by an EU grant to advance CCS in Europe. The findings are significant as this type of storage site is common in Europe.

If we take that figure of 200 million tonnes of CO2 and compare it to a reported 35.6 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted globally in 2012, we may easily calculate that the National Grid CO2 storage project would accommodate global CO2 emissions for about two days. So after two days it would be full.
One might ask if that two days respite represents good value for money in terms of CO2-induced global temperature changes. Good value for the well owners no doubt, but good value for us?

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Re cycling

We’ve just returned from a week in the caravan at Minehead, Somerset. We use Minehead as a base for walking in Exmoor and the surrounding area. Not quite as rugged as Derbyshire, but a most attractive area for walking.

Withypool to Tarr Steps and back via Knaplock is a fine circular walk if you are ever in the area.

One thing we notice about these caravan jaunts is how many caravans and motorhomes have a couple of bikes stowed somewhere conspicuous.

Another thing we notice is how rarely we see any of these cycle owners actually cycle off somewhere. The cycles are unloaded from the car roof or the back of the motorhome right enough, but after that brief burst of activity they seem to lie around as a mute sign of good intentions.

Can’t do that with walking boots I suppose.

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