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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Turbine tech



The Engineer has an interesting article on the remarkable technology behind Rolls Royce turbine blades.

The components the ABCF is producing are not ones that most people ever see: they are the turbine blades that are hidden away in the hottest part of jet engines. For from the decorative brilliance of Greek bronzes, they combine a utilitarian appearance with complexity of form and function and a jewel-like internal perfection: weighing only about 300g and small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, they are in fact perfect single crystals of a metal alloy whose composition has been fine-tuned over many years to operate in the hellish conditions of the fastest-moving part of a jet engine.

During a summer job in the late sixties I worked in a Rolls Royce lab where we tested this type of blade. In those days they were simpler but not so very different in appearance. The lab I worked in was trying to coat them with tungsten using a kind of plasma spray gun. Tungsten wire was fed into the plasma and sprayed by hand onto test blades. One problem was sunburn from all the uv generated by the plasma.

Surprisingly enough it all seemed rather casual to me, with little sense of urgency. We drank tea from laboratory beakers and some people brought in foreigners, which were DIY projects smuggled in to take advantage of Rolls Royce technical and engineering facilities in various parts of the site. 

One chap repaired his rusty torch this way. First he had the metal case sandblasted to remove the old paint and the rust, then he repaired rust holes with resin. Next he had the thing spray painted in a Rolls Royce painting booth and finally a metal ring which held the glass was nickel-plated in a Rolls Royce plating bath. A few years later Rolls-Royce was declared bankrupt. That torch was a symptom of malaise, even I could tell that.

Things are obviously very different now and it's a pity that this kind of story in the Engineer rarely makes it into the mainstream media. No doubt it is basically a press release, but it is an interesting one, isn't all that technical and deserves a wider circulation. Instead we have reams of drivel about the latest incarnation of Dr Who, a kids' TV programme.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Leftist Buzzword Salad




An interesting clip, especially the assertion that accusations of racism are losing their potency. Perhaps people are tired of political correctness, tired of hearing the same old mantras over and over again. Perhaps people are well aware that far too much of it is wildly exaggerated or simply untrue.

I'm not so sure though. We should not mistake the extremes for symptoms of a potentially fatal malaise. Finger-pointing is infinitely flexible, infinitely resourceful, hugely appealing to human vanity. That's one which isn't losing its potency - vanity. Just the opposite as far as I can see.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Thomas Sowell on slavery



None of this will be news to anyone with even a passing interest is such matters, but is the wider story of slavery worth knowing, at least in outline?

Of course it is, the question is rhetorical, but with black slavery coupled to white guilt as virtually the only aspect we see in the mainstream arena, what do we gain personally if we try to set the issue in a wider historical context?

I’m not sure. When a particular narrative dominates the public arena, then even accuracy seems somewhat futile and that cannot be good.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Four sparrows and a thrush

He softly let himself out, and was gone some time. When he reappeared, he produced, not a rabbit, but four sparrows and a thrush. ‘I could do nothing in the way of a rabbit without setting a wire,’ he said. ‘But I have managed to get these by knowing where they roost.’ He showed her how to prepare the birds, and, having set her to roast them by the fire, departed with the pitcher, to replenish it at the brook which flowed near the homestead in the neighbouring Bottom.

Thomas Hardy - Two on a Tower (1882)

Times change. I would have no idea how to find a meal like that, nor how to cook it. Yet as a youngster I remember a great-uncle telling us about his childhood and how his family used to catch and eat sparrows. The times he was speaking of would only be a few years after Hardy published his novel.

We have lots of sparrows in the garden this year but I’m not tempted.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Tainted Source

Politics should be based on the recognition that the state is a public entity based on law, not an enterprise run by managerial decisions made in private.
John Laughland - The Tainted Source: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea

John Laughland’s book was first published twenty years ago but is still relevant today, especially amid the turmoil of competing Brexit narratives. Among other aspects, it provides an interesting examination of the roots of the EU, particularly Europe as envisaged by fascist and Nazi strategists, academics and business leaders before and during WWII. Of particular interest is how extremely close the EU is now to the structures worked out by totalitarian thinkers over seventy years ago. The EU is not a modern construct and fascist political thinking did not simply disappear from Europe in 1945.

Apart from this totalitarian and even antiquated aspect of the EU, one of Laughland’s most interesting ideas is his concept of an unpolitical EU. By that he means that the EU has a managerial rather than a political ethos and this runs throughout its structure. It is not political but unpolitical. All issues must have a single official response and supporting that response must be an overall plan, strategy or process with no room for deviation. This is not politics but administration - the EU is not political.

The EU is all about planning and implementing the plan, not about discussing plans in the political arena, tearing them to pieces, patching them back together again. None of that. The knockabout and messy war of ideas has no place in an EU which values its totalitarian roots without ever admitting that this is where it all came from. This is not to accuse the EU of being fascist as Laughland is careful to point out, because that would be ridiculous - times have changed. As his book’s title suggests, it is more a case of pointing out the EU’s tainted roots and continuing failure to repudiate those roots by facing up to the ingrained deficiencies they have caused.

The point being made here is that political life should be messy and uncertain because that is the very nature of politics and human interaction generally. This fractured, suck it and see form of social and economic progress is how mistakes are corrected, how resilience is welded into the political fabric, how dissident voices can be heard in case they harbour valuable insights.

In which case, first past the post voting is likely to be more political than any form of proportional representation because it maximises the political over the unpolitical. Proportional representation leads away from the clamour of political freedom towards the unpolitical path of restricted freedoms, of closed doors and insider dealing where the corridors of power matter far more than the debating chamber.

As ever a key problem comes down to people. As the EU tries and tries again to apply linear thinking to non-linear realities, the issue of competence at the highest level becomes ever more acute. The EU does not have the ability nor the flexibility to build what it claims to be building. It is all very well to poke fun at figures such as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, but there is a more serious side to this problem.

It is increasingly obvious that the EU does not have the political competence to push itself towards successful completion where it is able to compete with the rest of the world. The EU is gargantuan project lurching through the post-war decades, becoming more and more unwieldy. Like a huge drunken uncle sprawled across the kitchen floor, nobody cares to pick it up and in any event nobody can.

Who with an ounce of humility and self-knowledge would ever take it on? Not even a political genius and we don’t have many of those. A dynamic political culture supplies its own distributed genius, not merely from the brains of talented individuals but from millions upon millions of daily decisions taken by politically free people building their lives within a respected framework of law, justice and democratic government. That is what politics is supposed to do for us.

Politics is therefore part of what it is to be human, if ‘politics’ means the public association of individuals who understand themselves to be ‘a people’. Without ‘a people’, there can be no rule by the people (democracy).
John Laughland

Monday, 10 July 2017

The memory hole




This is the view from our lunch stop during a walk along the river Wye this afternoon. As you can see I’ve included my boots to add a hint of authenticity. Would Patrick Lichfield have imagineered such an artistic touch? I think not.

A little earlier Mrs H and I had been discussing the question of elusive memories and how annoying it is to find you can’t recall the name of a particular celebrity, politician or almost any other name. It can be mildly worrying too, but also cheering if after some intense brain racking you finally manage to make a connection and come up with the right name. Surprising how often it wasn't worth all that effort though.

Yet we could have looked at the problem from another angle. Perhaps we should be pleased when unused names slip away from immediate recall simply because they are no longer encountered regularly. Trying to bring them back is like fishing something out of the bin even though it was discarded for a reason. It might come in useful... No it won’t, it never does. I blame the recycling mania.

On the other hand, perhaps we should be mildly concerned at how easy it is to pack our memories with all this useless information such as the names of celebrities who merely infest the public arena, adding nothing of value to social memories. So forgetting may be good for us as well as... what was it? I’m sure there was something else...

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Clicks among the outrage



From the Telegraph  we are told - 

Two British men have become the first in the country to give birth after putting their gender transitions on hold.

Hayden Cross, 21, and Scott Parker, 23, were both born women, but chose to have children before full surgery made it impossible.

Yes, the two "men" are of course women but no doubt the Telegraph knows it can use such stories to harvest some clicks along with the outrage. It's all very modern in a race to the bottom kind of way.

In April Mr Parker gave birth to his daughter Sara who was conceived following a drunken one-night stand with a friend in August last year.

Last month Mr Cross delivered his daughter Trinity-Leigh via Caesarean section, after he found a sperm donor on Facebook and inseminated himself.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The bus stops here



From the BBC we hear about a conflict between a bus stop and the front door of a newly built house in Langley Mill.

A newly-built house with a bus shelter "smack-bang" in front of its door has been put up for sale.

The two-bedroom home in Langley Mill is "attracting a lot of interest" despite being blocked by the bus stop, estate agent Burchell Edwards said.


Mrs H and I pass this site several times a week on the grandchild school run so the problem has been obvious to us for some time. The houses have been built on a site once occupied by a large second hand car dealer but why anyone would buy one we're not sure. Apart from the bus stop issue which only affects one property, the houses seem to have no garden, merely a yard for storing wheelie-bins.

As far as we can see, these brand-new terraced houses have far less land than nearby miners' terraces built in the nineteenth century. The new houses may be clean, modern and well-insulated, but given the choice I'd probably prefer the nineteenth century version with a garden. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Awesome

Because we have grandkids I watch a fair bit of kids’ TV although these days all of it is streamed off the internet. Terrestrial TV seems to be dead as far as the grandkids are concerned. I doubt if they know which channel is which so the BBC's planned spending splurge could be a waste of money.

Commonly heard on kids’ TV is the word ‘awesome’. Along with ‘amazing’ it denotes a kind of gushing approval which can be directed at any mediocre achievement because the great aim seems to consist of avoiding the worst possible thing a child can ever experience – sadness.

Oh well – we are all too familiar with hype, exaggeration, unmerited praise and the pathological avoidance of criticism because we are modern and caring. We must be soft in the head too - but I add that in the nicest possible way.

It is natural to encourage kids in their halting endeavours to learn and progress because we want them to do well. Of course we do so we have to offer up at least some admiration for that weird orange blob which is supposed to be Mummy or that lump of Play-Doh which is supposed to be a dragon. The trouble is these things are neither awesome nor amazing so perhaps we shouldn't say they are. It doesn't prepare them for bureaucratic realities later on.

Suppose a child grows up, takes to politics, climbs the greasy pole all the way to the top and finally makes the UN work as it should. That would be both awesome and amazing. Well not really. That would be impossible, but ‘impossible' is a word you don’t seem to hear much on kids’ TV and that could explain a good deal.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Clutching at straws

From eurekalert we hear about new research into the healthy side-effects of Pokémon GO.

Today marks the one year anniversary of Pokémon GO's worldwide release that sent crowds hiking through parks, meandering into streets and walking for miles in search of Pokémon, those cute little digital characters that appear in real locations on your smartphone...

...Kent State University researchers found that playing a popular physically-interactive, smartphone based game, like Pokémon GO, may actually promote exercise.

Grandson was keen on Pokémon and was quite prepared to trek off outside with his mobile phone to find the strange little creatures. However, as with every other fad, this one faded and now he hardly ever mentions them. Not a health regime to rely on I'd say. 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Dumb as a rock

Donald Trump recently managed to seem even less presidential than usual by describing MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski as "dumb as a rock Mika".

“Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people, but their low rated show is dominated by their NBC bosses,” Trump wrote. “Too bad!”

Whatever the story behind this, we are not accustomed to a relentless stream of crude jibes from a US president. Even those still inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt must wonder why they stick with it. 

And yet...

And yet great swathes of modern media output are as dumb as a rock even if the media folk behind them are not. If influential people keep quiet about it or if they try to be even-handed – what then? That’s the problem with Trump’s approach. We may dislike seeing it from a president but it is common enough in blogging and social media. If Trump is waging a war against what he sees as fake news, then how is he supposed to wage it? In such a way that nothing is done and voters barely notice?

For example, BBC coverage of green issues is as dumb as a rock and has been for years. So why not say so? Imagine an impossible situation.

Theresa May – “As for last night’s BBC programme on sustainable energy, they are not bad people but their low rated show was dominated by a green agenda. Too bad!”

Jeremy Corbyn – "I agree with the Prime Minister. The show was dumb as a rock activism – not what we want from the BBC at all."

A ludicrous scenario of course, but Trump’s crudeness has raised an interesting question. It may be that our expectation of public politeness from senior political figures has steered us into a situation we never would have entered if we had the choice - a situation where the miserable standard of mainstream reporting is never tackled. 

Our political class would rather manipulate it than tackle it but is that what we want? We do not need even more laws and regulations about what can be said either, but that is what we're getting. What we need is more robustness in public discourse, more freedom to say what is becoming ever more difficult to say.

I still don’t like how Donald Trump operates, but behind the dislike is a certain wistful sense that we have drifted too far the other way and Trump is merely pointing it out.

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Tyranny of Pop Music



Last year we were in Debenhams whiling away a few hours while the car was being serviced. Round about lunch time I phoned the garage on my mobile to see how things were going but had not realised how loud the store's ambient music was. 

After vainly looking around for a quiet spot I ended up couching by a rack of coats with a finger in one ear. That way I could just make out what the garage had to say. No doubt the receptionist at the other end wondered why I was shouting, yet so many appear not to notice the incessant assault on our ears. Until that phone call I hadn't noticed just how loud it was. In the end, familiarity tends to breed not contempt, but acceptance.