Saturday 31 May 2014

The Switch


It just occurred to me. The human body can turn

A fig biscuit
A boiled egg
Some bread and butter
An oatcake filled with bacon and Stilton cheese
A small salad
An apple
A banana
More cheese
A wedge of fruitcake
Tea and coffee

Into this blog post!

Friday 30 May 2014

Emotional abuse

Why is it so necessary to be suspicious of stories such as this from the BBC?

The number of child emotional abuse cases referred to police and children's services by the NSPCC has risen by 47% in a year, the charity has said.

Its helpline received about 8,000 calls in 2013-14 about such non-physical cruelty, and 5,354 were thought serious enough to merit further inquires.

Ministers are seeking to update laws on emotional abuse in England and Wales. 

Or see the idea of a "Cinderella Law" from charity Action for Children.
Or the government's 97-page guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Now obviously children can be and are subject to emotional abuse, as they probably will be from time to time throughout their lives. As ever there are questions of degree, with horror stories at one end and a mountain of trivia at the other. So not necessarily an issue to take lightly, but consider the meme being promoted here - the one Larkin made so popular. 

This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Philip Larkin (1971)

Man hands on misery to man. Well Larkin certainly did his best. This grotesque meme fits so happily with Orwellian political trends, with our insane tendency to exaggerate official competence, to decry the essential role of personal responsibility. 

So with ghastly inevitability it will be used to screw up the emotional bonds between parents and children, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces, teachers and pupils and anyone else unwary enough to be caught in the sanctimonious net. 

Unwary - not a good thing to be is it? We have to wary - more so as time goes by. So how big is the net likely to grow? Shouting at a rowdy class to get some attention? Being loudly and momentarily honest about a child's bad behaviour? Inadvertently swearing in front of a child?

What we know is that there will be stories where insanely pedantic officials destroy the lives of decent adults. Crazy court cases which should never have been. Absurd sentences where courts stick to the letter of bad laws. We know it because we've seen it before, because we know we'll see it again. 

So who is being abused here? Who is in the firing line?

Thursday 29 May 2014

Trust me - I'm a Lib Dem

Vince Cable - pic source

According to the BBC, not-yet-Lib-Dem-leader Vince Cable has :-

...denied acting disloyally after one of his closest allies attempted to get Nick Clegg sacked as Liberal Democrat leader.

Mr Cable said there was "no disloyalty whatever" and he had made clear that the polling carried out in Mr Clegg's constituency and Inverness was "quite wrong".

It isn't entirely clear what Mr Cable means by "quite wrong" here. Presumably it's similar in meaning to "unsuccessful", which in turn means "oh buggery bugger, I've screwed up again but it's a good thing old Oakeshott resigned".

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Harness your own wind


Engineering and Technology Magazine (link may require registration) reports on a new Dutch design for domestic wind turbines.

A super-efficient and completely soundless wind turbine developed by a Dutch company aims to enable every household to generate its own wind energy.

Officially unveiled today, the shell-shaped Liam F1 Urban Wind Turbine offers much better efficiency compared with conventional designs. Its shape, modelled after the perfectly logarithmic spiral of a Nautilus shell, allows the turbine to always position itself at the best angle towards the direction of the wind, achieving efficiency which is about 80 per cent of what is theoretically possible.

With an average speed of wind of about 5m/s, the turbine generates about 1,500 kilowatt-hours of energy – about half of the consumption of a regular household. The Archimedes, the company behind the Liam F1 Urban Wind Turbine, believes that in combination with efficient solar panels, the turbine can make every household completely energy self-sustainable.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Getting rid of Clegg?

Mike Smithson over at thinks serious money has been spent on a recent ICM poll designed to put pressure on Nick Clegg.

Hopefully later today ICM will release the detailed data [*] from the private polling that’s splashed by the Guardian this morning. The broad message of what’s been leaked is that the party stands to do worse in four key seats that it already holds without a change of leader.

The choice of pollster is interesting. ICM has over the years tended to show the most favourable position for the Lib Dems.

What struck me are not just the numbers but the fact that serious money is being spent on the effort to try to get Clegg out.

Constituency surveys like this are just about the most complex and expensive political polling that you can do. They can only be carried out by phone and the bill for this job will have been tens of thousands of pounds. It also takes time and planning. It is not the sort of thing that could have been commissioned last week.

[*] my link

Well it is easy enough to believe that powerful Lib Dem insiders want to be rid of Clegg well before next year's general election. As for the wider picture, I wonder if we are seeing the demise of the Lib Dems.

Without an obviously unique Lib Dem selling point, three mainstream parties may be one too many. The success of UKIP clearly highlights the lack of political choice in UK politics and the Lib Dems may pay the price. Dire he may be, but I suspect the problem runs deeper than Clegg's unappealing political persona.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Splits, knives and growing up

A few days ago my wife and I both happened to mention a game called splits which we both played as youngsters in the fifties and early sixties. For those who never played splits, this is how it went.

It had to be played on grass for reasons which will soon become obvious. Two of us stood facing each other with our feet together. One had a knife, preferably a small sheath knife, but a penknife or even a table knife would do as long as mum didn’t catch us taking it.

The one with the knife threw it into the grass by the other’s feet. The blade had to stick into the ground cleanly to count as a good throw. The non-thrower then had to remove the knife from the ground and put their foot on the spot where the knife had been. Then it was their turn to throw.

The aim of the game was to throw the knife far enough away from the other’s foot that he or she couldn’t reach it – hence the name splits. However with too long a throw there was less chance of the knife sticking in the ground properly, so getting the distance right was essential.

Another rule allowed you to throw the knife between the other’s feet. If it stuck into the ground cleanly between the feet, you were allowed to bring your own feet together again.

Most older kids seemed to have at least a penknife in the fifties. They were used for harmless games like splits, carving initials on trees or school desks, sharpening pencils and other important functions. In my world it was part of growing up on a council estate and we did not see knives as street weapons.

No doubt there were accidents and possibly a few tragedies, but our role models were mum and dad and clean-cut heroes on black and white TV such as the Lone Ranger. Role models presumably strong enough for us to be trusted with knives, and tacitly allowed to play games such as splits.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Derbyshire business and the EU

A few days ago the Derby Telegraph conducted a straw poll on attitudes to the EU among Derbyshire employers.

In a straw poll conducted by the Derby Telegraph ahead of tomorrow's European elections, 73% felt that staying in would be better for the UK economy and jobs.

Primary reasons given for continued membership include ease of cross-border trade and a fear of being left out in the economic cold.

The usual message in other words. I'd expect these people to know what they are talking about, but the following comment makes me wonder if they really do.

But the Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce, representing 3,800 members and 3,000 affiliates, wants in.

Chief executive George Cowcher said: "What a majority our members have told us is they want to stay part of Europe but renegotiate the terms of our membership to wrest back significant control and reduce the burden of being part of the EU."

Renegotiate the terms of our membership? Where have we heard that before? Surely an optimistic hope, but at least one local employer has a far more robust attitude.

Graham Mulholland, managing director at EPM Technology, is one entrepreneur that might be expected to back the European Union. His composite materials operation makes parts for F1 racing cars, aircraft and the telecoms industry, which are shipped around the world.

He said: "The EU is too big and clumsy an animal to control these days and is not quick or strong enough to deal with all the major issues. And it's wasteful.

"I think we're in a good enough place now to walk away, bank the savings and retire the politicians who race to Brussels as their careers end in the UK.

"These monies can then go to schemes like the Derby Enterprise Growth Fund directly, without a middle man who we currently have to ask to get our own money back."

Quantifying bollocks

One of the Great Issues of our time is the problem of how to quantify bollocks. Note that when speaking of bollocks in the sense of drivel, garbage or lies, we use term such as how much bollocks rather than how many. It’s more akin to weight than number.

The technical term is Bollocks Quotient, or BQ. The scale most commonly used is a simple unitless range of 0 to 100 devised by the Institute of Notions. On that basis, a speech by Nick Clegg is likely to have a BQ of 100 while the BBC news might be as low as 50.

The BBC news is in fact quite a good standard of inveracity here, closely tracking our general UK-wide BQ of 50.

It may be a surprise to many, but in medieval times, general BQ was probably no higher than ours. All those nonexistent demons, witches and bogies were offset by our politics, journalism, pervasive middle class drivel and faith in house prices.

So the real challenge for any society is to reduce its BQ from that prevailing in medieval times, after which all kinds of benefits should follow. However, we should not underestimate the challenge. According to recent research by the Institute of Notions we haven’t managed to reduce our general BQ since Sweyn Forkbeard died in 1014.

From the Institute of Notions

However, the interweb seems to have the potential to change all that. In fact I’m sure it has. Consider the following thought experiment.

My main environmental interests revolved around uncertainty of measurement. In the field there were many confounding factors from excessively granular drift factors to the differential morphology of measurement itself.

Before the interweb, the fact that this little paragraph has a BQ of almost 100 may not have been obvious to the general reader. Some would tacitly assume a BQ of zero. Today however, interweb is powerful enough to at least raise suspicions that its true BQ may be well over the social norm.

So is the interweb reducing the BQ of UK society by this kind of checkable transparency? Are all the scandals and suspicions simply a result of transparency and consequent decline in BQ?

Are we headed for a BQ as low as 40?

Friday 23 May 2014

The UKIP boy done good

Well at least UKIP seem to have caused a stir in the local council elections. Maybe the EU elections will provide another ripple of interest too, but squeezing an MP or two past our rigged electoral system next year may be a different matter.

Steve Fisher says

A uniform swing projection of the House of Commons from the PNS suggests that UKIP would not win any seats. This is partly because in 2010 their share was very evenly distributed.

The joke's on us

Here’s a terrible old joke I first heard in the early sixties.

Customer enters a posh barber’s shop and sits down in the chair.
 Barber – “Yaas sir?”
 Customer – “No me ‘ead.”

Ah well... but what about the words? In the astonishing event that anyone would pass on this joke, the passer-on first has to remember the words. Sometimes the words can be changed, embellished or whatever, but to stay coherent they have to remain essentially as they are.

The joke must be passed on as received.

Modern political narratives are a repertoire of words, key phrases and even body language which must be passed on as received. It's very much like passing on a joke and sometimes funnier too – for the cynical onlooker.

Once a politician has learned the narrative, there is no need to edit it into something more personal. No need for elaboration or explanation, just as there is usually no need to explain a joke. Explanations detract from the narrative anyway - just as they detract from a joke. This is why going off-topic is seen as so damaging by a narrative’s minders.

Deliver - never explain.

Yet most of us who enjoy the minority pastime called “thinking” prefer to reshape ideas into our own words. In fact it's usually essential. We use our own words to analyse what is being passed on to us, rephrasing key concepts to suit our understanding and vocabulary.

We may well reshape an idea into our own words and then reject it on that basis. As we might reject a joke and never pass it on. Fine, that’s the power of language.

Yet in their professional capacity, the political class tend to forego the power of language and in so doing, forego the power of thinking. They don’t need to think outside the narrative. If they do, they risk running into difficulties as it unravels in their incompetent hands.

So it's vitally important that they don't go off-topic and don't use language as we do by reshaping a narrative into their own words. In a professional sense they don’t own their own words anyway - their sponsors own them.

Political language may be a joke, but the joke's on us.

Thursday 22 May 2014

I voted UKIP

This afternoon we toddled off to vote in the local council and European elections. I voted UKIP in both, not because I have any real faith in what it might achieve, but because I'm sick of the big three.

I suppose it's not much of a reason, but I see no other way to register any kind of electoral protest. Possibly it's a boat-rocker and possibly not. We'll see when the results are announced.

I hope Clegg gets a kicking.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Is Clegg off to the EU?

Nick Clegg seems to be using every opportunity to hone his EU credentials.

Having begun this European election campaign by challenging the UKIP leader to debate whether Britain should stay in or get out of the EU, he is ending it by insisting that being pro-Europe was the best way to be pro-British.

In a speech in Oxford, he attacked those he called "false patriots", saying:

"Ukip. Conservative backbenchers. Isolationists. They are not thinking about Britain's interests. They shroud their narrow nationalism in the language of patriotism. They mask their hostility towards Europe as British bulldog spirit. But these are false patriots. The isolation they offer is a breach of our history, of our great British tradition of engagement, and of our enlightened national self-interest. If the forces of insularity and chauvinism get their way they will ensure that Britain no longer benefits from the political and economic advances in Europe that we have shaped. And they will hand the keys to running our European continent to the Germans, the French and others, while we retreat back across the English Channel."

It seems to me that this is not genuine political campaigning so much as preparing the ground for defeat. Lining up his next job.

Clegg is rallying the troops of course, but only where the rallying cry suits his personal circumstances. He's preparing for failure. He isn't saying what Lib Dem MEPs would do for the UK, because the answer to that is nothing.

No doubt this is the kind of thing the Lib Dem faithful wish to hear from their leader, but as ever with Clegg, the focus is tightly trained on his own situation.

Here are my credentials. I'm on your side. Always have been, always will be. I'll fight tooth and nail for the EU.  

From a suitably prestigious office over at your place.  

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Climate, CO2 and cooling

A very interesting and detailed take on climate change is to be found in this fascinating post by E M Smith, aka blogger The Chiefio. Written back in December 2012, it is long and detailed but well worth reading. This brief post is merely my take on his ideas.

Firstly the role of CO2.

Most people interested in the climate change debate will know that CO2 in the stratosphere is thought to have a cooling effect as opposed to its supposed warming effect in the troposphere. The cooling effect of CO2 may also be causing the stratosphere itself to cool.

One key finding was the importance of the impact of CO2-induced temperature change on stratospheric ozone in estimating temperature trends. The decreased stratospheric temperatures due to a CO2 increase slowed stratospheric ozone destruction; the higher ozone concentrations caused heating that slightly offsets CO2-induced cooling.

Although simple physics suggests CO2 could act as a so-called greenhouse gas in the troposphere, it doesn’t tell us the magnitude of any resultant warming. A possible warming effect may be swamped by other processes – the physics doesn’t tell us. Many have tried to torture the data into telling them what they want to hear, but so far none have succeeded.

Yet many climate sceptics and all orthodox global warming proponents agree that increasing atmospheric CO2 should cause some detectable warming in the troposphere. Put simply, both groups think CO2 must slow down radiative surface cooling because of its capacity to absorb outgoing infrared radiation.

The crucial difference in views between the two sides is how much warming we should expect - the so-called climate sensitivity to CO2. Yet the current global temperature standstill shows both views to be wrong. Climate sensitivity to CO2 appears to be as near zero as makes no difference.

So instead of bodging the thing with ad hoc hypotheses why not assume that heat transfer in the troposphere is primarily driven by convection, evaporation and condensation? Hardly a radical assumption given our knowledge of weather. There are many other factors to consider such as clouds, El Niño, volcanic activity and ocean heat capacity, but to avoid an impenetrable fog of complexity we first have to stand back and look at broad possibilities.

Next the tropopause.

The tropopause lies between the troposphere and the stratosphere. Smith sees understanding the nature of the tropopause as a key to understanding how global heat transfer from the surface occurs in two distinct bands in two distinct ways.

The troposphere where heat transfer is primarily driven by convection and water vapour.
The stratosphere where heat transfer is primarily radiative.

Of particular interest is how the height of the tropopause is influenced by the amount of heat which has to be transported from troposphere to stratosphere. As a result, the tropopause is higher at the equator than it is at the poles.


Even if CO2 does warm the troposphere by an amount we can’t yet measure, the heat may be transferred upwards via convection, condensation and evaporation - not radiation.

Stratospheric cooling rates: The picture shows how water, cabon dioxide and ozone contribute to longwave cooling in the stratosphere. Colours from blue through red, yellow and to green show increasing cooling, grey areas show warming of the stratosphere. The tropopause is shown as dotted line (the troposphere below and the stratosphere above). For CO2 it is obvious that there is no cooling in the troposphere, but a strong cooling effect in the stratosphere. Ozone, on the other hand, cools the upper stratosphere but warms the lower stratosphere. Figure from: Clough and Iacono, JGR, 1995; adapted from the SPARC Website. 

Note the above picture of stratospheric cooling rates. The red bit in the bottom left below the tropopause (dotted line)  is heat being dumped into the stratosphere by water vapour. The narrow pale blue band to the right of that and also below the tropopause – that’s CO2 doing nothing much.

Above the troposphere, convective heat transport ends, radiative processes take over and CO2 plus ozone are kept busy radiating excess heat into space. Those are the two colourful elongated oval shapes.

I’m not suggesting Smith's overall schema is what actually happens because nobody has that sorted, but I like his style. Climate conjectures are all vulnerable in one way or another, because that's the nature of the beast, but even in outline these ideas feel coherent to me. They do not seem to violate any scientific laws and fit well with observation.

Monday 19 May 2014

Disinvestors in People

My spies tell me that Nick Clegg intends to upstage David Cameron with a new workplace equality scheme.

Called Disinvestors in People, the rationale is that people are not economic units requiring investment but real people with a basic right to equal treatment. From an internal Lib Dem white paper we have this resounding paragraph.

People are not machines or items of plant, buildings, vehicles or production lines. People are living, breathing human beings. We do not and should not treat ourselves as investments, but should claw back our human dignity by disinvesting ourselves from this bleak, soulless and distorted obsession with money.

Disinvestors in People is remarkably ingenious. Any student who fails to earn a qualification at the end of a registered course or study programme will be given top-up qualifications from the Disinvestors in People scheme – or DiP as it is called among Nick’s bright young things.

So once DiP is implemented, people who apply for a job will start on an equal footing with those who on paper have better qualifications. It will of course be illegal to discriminate against candidates with DiP qualifications.

Ultimately, DiP will be applied to employment experience too, thus helping young people and those who for no fault of their own are regarded as unemployable. Discrimination on the basis of experience will become illegal because candidates with no experience will be able to apply for a DiP experience top-up certificate – or DiPe.

Nick thinks this one will revive Lib Dem fortunes.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Shouting in public

Two women walking their dogs through the town centre. I don't know their names so I'll refer to them as Waynetta and Mrs Pooter. There was no Wayne present but Mr Pooter hovered in the background.

The dogs were similar to those in the pic and suddenly the one on the left got away from Waynetta and went for Mrs Pooter's dog - the one on the right. You guessed which was which anyway, didn't you?

C'mere yer little shit, shrieked Waynetta at the top of her voice, evidently embarrassed by the situation. Yer bloody little shit - c'mere now yer little shit, she bellowed again, pursuing her canine companion with considerable energy but little immediate success.

Meanwhile Mrs Pooter had rescued her doggy by the simple expedient of picking it up. Pretty courageous of her I thought, even though Waynetta's dog didn't seem to be all that dangerous. Maybe not even as dangerous as Waynetta.

There followed a tangle of accusations and confusion where only Waynetta's voice was actually audible. At the time it seemed nigh on loud enough to burst a sewage pipe, but perhaps that was by way of contrast with everyone else. What is it about demented shouting from adults? Don't they listen to themselves?

Anyhow the final incident occurred as Waynetta attached her dog to a lead. Mrs Pooter handed her pooch to Mr Pooter, grabbed the lead and forcibly dragged Waynetta's dog well away from the scene of the action. I'm not sure why, but she seemed to be making a point.

Of course this was Waynetta's excuse to be loudly indignant, but the episode was fizzling out and both parties went their separate ways.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Gogol on German competition

A shoemaker, indeed? 'As drunk as a shoemaker,' says the proverb. I know what you were like, my friend. If you wish, I will tell you your whole history. 

You were apprenticed to a German, who fed you and your fellows at a common table, thrashed you with a strap, kept you indoors whenever you had made a mistake, and spoke of you in uncomplimentary terms to his wife and friends. 

At length, when your apprenticeship was over, you said to yourself, 'I am going to set up on my own account, and not just to scrape together a kopeck here and a kopeck there, as the Germans do, but to grow rich quick.' 

Hence you took a shop at a high rent, bespoke a few orders, and set to work to buy up some rotten leather out of which you could make, on each pair of boots, a double profit. But those boots split within a fortnight, and brought down upon your head dire showers of maledictions; with the result that gradually your shop grew empty of customers, and you fell to roaming the streets and exclaiming, 'The world is a very poor place indeed! A Russian cannot make a living for German competition.'

Nikolai Gogol - Dead Souls (1842)

Friday 16 May 2014

To think certain thoughts

Culture is, among other things, a negative force – a something which prevents persons, living in certain places and at certain times, from being able to think certain thoughts or adopt certain styles of expression.
Aldous Huxley - Variations on a Philosopher

If Huxley was right, then we would expect a multicultural society to pile restrictions one on top of the other such that ordinary people have more constraints on their behaviour than was the case with their original culture.

We lose certain terms to multicultural trends, such as un-British or un-Christian. There are no replacements and their continuing loss well illustrates how we have acquired an inability to think certain thoughts.

More significant still is that many people do not want to think certain thoughts. They see as a decidedly retrograde ability. Something to be deplored in lesser people. Something to be castigated, made illegal and punished with shrill severity.

If we accept multicultural trends, then we simply adopt new restrictions as the new social norms and get on with our lives. To a large extent this is inevitable for most of us, partly because life has to go on and partly because it is in our interests to accept what we cannot effectively oppose.

Yet multiculturalism has introduced political policing into the UK. A few decades ago, overt racism and xenophobia were controlled socially. To be racist or xenophobic came to be seen as old fashioned, unsophisticated and a little dim. Hence the Alf Garnett and Rupert Rigsby TV characters.

Social control is still apparent today, but now we have much harsher and more overt control via political policing. The remit is wider and legal sanction increasingly pervasive and severe. Ostensibly, political policing protects minorities and promotes social cohesion, but is more commonly invoked by a priggish and widely deployed right to be offended.

So multicultural trends, at least here in the UK, have become a useful tool of soft totalitarianism. A handy political stick for restricting and directing cultural norms in a way which even seems moral to the politically correct.

Not only that, but there are numerous willing informers in our midst, including children. Police informers who do not even see themselves as such because Huxley was right.

They are unable to think certain thoughts.

Thursday 15 May 2014

The driver in front

Driving back from Buxton, I followed a car for a number of miles. The driver was one of those people who make anticipation more difficult. Usually it is easy enough to follow another car safely and without effort, but some drivers don't drive in a conveniently predictable way.

They slow down to an excessively cautious crawl going round a bend and don't speed up as much as one might expect coming out of the bend. Then they go round the next bend at a more typical speed and speed up out of the bend too.

In my experience, mildly erratic and unpredictable drivers are often talking to a passenger. I assume the cadences of their driving match the cadences of the conversation.

A hand waves expressively and the brake lights flick on and off. As if the driver is slowing slightly in order to add a touch more concentration to the conversation.

Then it's the passenger's turn to speak and the car speeds up again. Or the car travels quite predictably for a mile or so, as if the conversation has lapsed.

Finally the car on the Buxton road stopped at a junction. I could see the driver nattering away like crazy, as if using this brief stoppage to get in as much talk as possible.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Washing rubbish

Our water supply is unmetered and I’ve recently been looking at the savings we might expect by applying for a meter. Not enormous seems to be the answer.

However, it occurred to me to consider the way we rinse out the empty cans, cartons, jars and bottles before dropping them in the recycling bin. Fine when we’re not paying for the water, but if we go on a meter do we stop washing the recycling? Or rubbish as we used to call it.

It’s not the money of course because a few litres of water doesn’t cost much, but I did wonder how much water is used to clean up all our recycling.

For example, some jars are a pain to rinse out and a fair amount of water is required for each one. I’ve just rinsed out a plastic humous pot which was oily and required more than a quick swill.

I’m not sure there is any point anyway because the water is probably worth more than the cans, cartons, jars and bottles. Well possibly not the cans, but I suspect the cartons, jars and bottles are worthless.

Of course it’s done to stop the bin smelling, but think of all that wasted water. Drinking water at that. 

Should we recycle it?

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Turbines interfere with airport radar

From the BBC

From the BBC we hear that two new wind turbines have been interfering with the radar at East Midlands Airport. 

Two giant wind turbines, erected in December, will not turn until later in the year because they cause interference with radar at an airport.

The 130m (426 ft) high turbines, at a sewage treatment plant in Spondon, Derby, scramble radar signals at East Midlands Airport six miles (10km) away.

They will have to be fitted with "clever electronics" to solve the problem, Severn Trent Water said.

It's easy enough to see why Severn Trent needs these remarkable wind turbines to work properly.

The turbines, named Winnie and Tony by local schoolchildren, are expected to produce about 10,000 megawatts of electricity when they are operational.

10,000 megawatts, or 10 GW is roughly a quarter of the entire UK electricity demand. The BBC never was strong on this environmental malarkey.

Shopping at Aldi

We’ve visited our local Aldi store every now and then since it opened about fifteen years ago. For the first few years it always seemed very quiet with only a few shoppers buying odds and ends that took their fancy. Many didn’t bother with a shopping trolley.

Although there were three checkouts, only one was ever used and even that was intermittent because Aldi staff seem to do everything.

Now the number of shoppers seems to have quadrupled at least and judging by the loaded trolleys, many folk are obviously buying most of their groceries from Aldi.

I can understand why too – Aldi tends to be noticeably cheaper than the big four – Tesco, Sainbury’s Asda and Morrison’s. There is less choice at Aldi of course, because that’s how they operate, but for the basics Aldi is difficult to beat.

From the Telegraph

Questions have been asked about how the company can sell relatively high-quality goods at very low prices. One answer is that it puts a lot of pressure on its Europe-wide suppliers to keep prices low. Many were not surprised when two Aldi beef products were found to contain up to 100 per cent horse meat.

But the other is that it sells a surprisingly small range of goods, making it easier to rely on a small number of suppliers that can use their scale to cut costs on the few things they do make. Aldi has expanded from 800 products to 1,350 recently, in an attempt to attract more people doing a full weekly shop, but this is still considerably fewer than the 30,000 lines at the main chains.

How the Co-op will survive this competition I don’t know, but my guess is it won’t. Morrison’s is also bound to struggle against the Aldi formula.

I reckon we save a fair amount of money whenever we shop there, which probably isn’t as often as it ought to be. There are no loyalty scams and as far as I can see, far fewer dodgy offers such as fake price reductions.

From the Telegraph again.

Stevens, at Verdict, says: “I think some shoppers find less choice rather liberating".

Indeed.  While tootling round Aldi I tend to agree then agree again with that Telegraph comment. Shopping for groceries is a chore. Keep it simple and keep it cheap will do most of the time. The other supermarkets will have to respond - and not just on prices and marketing flim-flam. 

If I check our latest Aldi till receipt, I can easily see how we’ve saved money by sticking to the shopping list for all the usual basics instead of trundling off to Sainsbury’s because it happens to be a few miles nearer. Spuds, apples, brioche, smoked salmon, thirty bars of plain chocolate...


Monday 12 May 2014

SNAFU – it’s what we do

Laurel and Hardy in the 1939 film The Flying Deuces

Human progress is mostly the outcome of trial and error, with the emphasis very much on error.

This is why the world seems bonkers to those who reflect on these things. Others shrug their shoulders and get on with a bit more trial and a lot more error. Our rapid access to vast stores of information, news and commentary makes the whole thing seem corrupt, stupid or both, but it isn’t.

It’s what we do - seen from the inside.

Catastrophic climate change is merely one of the errors. One day we’ll consign it to history as we move on to the next trial and the next parcel of errors.

Messing things up and finding out the hard way is what we do. Thinkers just have to put up with it, because reasoned anticipation isn’t how things are done. Reason comes after the mess, not before.

We don’t use our intelligence to avoid disasters. We use it to clean up afterwards.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Wheat Belly

A few years ago, we walked the Cumbria Way with a group of friends. We covered eighty five miles over six days and on returning home I found I'd gained six pounds in weight. How do you walk eighty five miles and gain six pounds? Well maybe one way is to begin each day with a breakfast like this. This was Keswick as I recall.

The extra pounds soon disappeared once we'd returned home because although I like my food, I dislike overeating, the bloated feeling that comes afterwards.

I was reminded of this by a No Tricks Zone post The Greatest Nutritional And Pharmaceutical Swindle Of All Time…High Grain, Low Fat Diets Are Killing Us By The Millions.

There are two videos in the post, the first being an interview with Dr William Davis, author of the book Wheat Belly. From the Amazon book description:-

Every day, over 200 million Americans consume food products made of wheat. As a result, over 100 million of them experience some form of adverse health effect, ranging from minor rashes and high blood sugar to the unattractive stomach bulges that preventive cardiologist William Davis calls "wheat bellies." According to Davis, that excess fat has nothing to do with gluttony, sloth, or too much butter: It's due to the whole grain wraps we eat for lunch. After witnessing over 2,000 patients regain their health after giving up wheat, Davis reached the disturbing conclusion that wheat is the single largest contributor to the nationwide obesity epidemic - and its elimination is key to dramatic weight loss and optimal health. 

There isn't a huge amount of wheat in that Keswick breakfast, but I followed it by toast and marmalade, so lots of wheat and sugar. Is wheat so damaging, or is it all those cheap calories it delivers?

After all, if we move to any reasonably balanced diet which calorie for calorie is more expensive, wouldn't we tend to reduce our calorie intake? Would that generate similar health benefits?

Friday 9 May 2014

The bleak delights of Blogworld

It would seem that human beings are not able to describe, nor perhaps to imagine, happiness except in terms of contrast.
George Orwell - Why Socialists Don't Believe In Fun

There are numerous reasons to blog, but I’m sure one of them is the pleasure to be found in contrast. We all know all about it, but allow me to set the basic scene via a familiar experience.

One of the pleasures of walking through a peaceful snowy landscape, quite apart from the exhilarating beauty, is returning home to put the boots away, hang up the coats to dry and light the fire. The kettle comes into it too.

It’s partly the contrast between snowy cold and snug warmth. Both pleasurable in themselves, but back home the pleasure is enhanced no end simply by coming in out of the snow. Especially as night closes in. 

Both experiences need not be pleasurable of course. Walking home from the dentist for example. Rarely is there so much quiet enjoyment from walking home.

Yet maybe we with our soft lives are not able to savour sweet contrasts as in earlier times. As Orwell says in the essay quoted above, Dickens knew how even poor people could glean a great deal of enjoyment from the warmth of fleeting pleasures. Not merely the appeal of a crust of bread to someone who is starving, but further up the scale of destitution too.

The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. Dickens can describe a poverty-stricken family tucking into a roast goose, and can make them appear happy; on the other hand, the inhabitants of perfect universes seem to have no spontaneous gaiety and are usually somewhat repulsive into the bargain.
George Orwell - Why Socialists Don't Believe In Fun

I suspect most of us live comfortable lives with no personal experience of Dickensian contrasts, but maybe blogging sometimes provides us with an alternative. 

We roam an angst-ridden landscape as a counterpoint to those comfortable lives. A mental cold shower where the comforts of real life are all the more pleasing when we leave the delightfully bleak scenery of Blogworld.

So I think I’ll finish off with coffee and dark chocolate.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Every little doesn't help

Derby Telegraph tells us about a scheme to use low-emission pool cars for Derbyshire health workers.

Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust teamed up with Co-wheels just over a year ago to introduce 10 Toyota Aygo cars primarily for the benefit of health workers, often travelling to remote parts of the county.

In the first year of the Co-wheels trial, pool car users transferred 54,900 miles from their own higher polluting vehicles and saved an estimated 5.3 tonnes of CO2.

So that's saved about 0.000000015% of global CO2 emissions for 2013. Scale those 10 cars up to about 68 billion cars and Derbyshire could solve the global warming issue.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Down the road a peacock struts

From Wikipedia

This is not easy to get across if you haven’t experienced something similar, but the other day I stumbled across Andrew Marr interviewing a politician on TV. I think it was one of the Eds or possibly George, Nick or even Dave.

So what?

Well here’s the difficult descriptive bit. For a brief moment it felt really weird to see a professional liar being interviewed on TV.

Weird? Yes I know - how could it possibly feel weird?

Yet it did – momentarily. For about a second or two – no more. One of those things you have to catch and store away because the clamour of daily life soon dilutes them to nothing.

So the weirdness was a brief strangeness - like seeing a peacock majestically strutting down the middle of the road. We once saw exactly that outside our house and for a second or two we had to make that basic adjustment we all make to the unexpected - is that thing really a peacock? It was.

The Andrew Marr thing was much like our double-take on first seeing that peacock. An appropriate image too - peacock strutting.

A startling flicker of evil on the very edge of perception. An insight yet not an insight, because we know these evils but don’t really feel them as evil. Too familiar. Perception has its wicked way with us, drops the veil too soon. Moulds reality, kneads it back into shape, back into what we expect.

We adapt so well and with such phenomenal speed don’t we? No surprises. So we even tolerate professional liars – see them as part of the furniture. Unremarkable. Normal. Not evil - not at all.

Nothing to see here – move along now.

But usually we don’t even get that far – we don’t so much tolerate professional liars as accept them into the backdrop of our lives. Folk still watch TV in their millions, so they must listen to what is said, to the lies, without feeling the weirdness. Without switching off in disgust.

We are too good at this, adjusting to what ought not to be. Missing what could be. Instead we grind out the social and political analysis, treat professional lies as some kind of argument requiring rebuttal. Even though we know what the liars are, what their lies are, why they lie.

It’s weird. But only rarely.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

A German view of green power

Fox pee to urine management

This is a patch of dead grass on our lawn. I've included a ten shilling piece in the pic to give an idea of size. Around the patch is a border of lush grass growing like crazy, although that doesn't show up very well.

Fox urine? Well experience teaches that dog urine can do much the same to grass, but this seems super strong to me. Even our Old English Sheepdog didn't blast the grass to this degree.

However, the lush surrounding growth set me thinking - surely we could do more with urine. At one time human urine was collected and used as a mordant to prepare cloth for dyeing, but its most obvious use is as a fertilizer.

Wikipedia has lots of interesting snippets on urine, including this one on urine management.

"Urine management" is a relatively new way to view closing the cycle of agricultural nutrient flows and reducing sewage treatment costs and ecological consequences such as eutrophication resulting from the influx of nutrient rich effluent into aquatic or marine ecosystems. Proponents of urine as a natural source of agricultural fertilizer claim the risks to be negligible or acceptable. Their views seem to be backed by research showing there are more environmental problems when it is treated and disposed of compared with when it is used as a resource.

Governments tend to take the piss, but the day may come when they make a virtue of it.

Monday 5 May 2014

Kamikaze tea flies

We're having some fine weather at the moment, but I can almost guarantee that if I sit down in the garden with a mug of tea, then within a few seconds one of those tiny black kamikaze tea flies will be floating on top.

Or to take another example - while out walking, it is perfectly obvious that kamikaze tea flies follow you until you stop for lunch and pull out the flask of tea. They dive almost as soon as you pour. Or it could be coffee, tea flies don’t seem to know the difference.

A very common experience no doubt, but how did the kamikaze tea fly evolve? What evolutionary niche have they exploited by diving into cups of hot tea?

Creationists have an advantage here, because they may simply claim that God created kamikaze tea flies to puzzle us. My theory is that there is no evolutionary advantage at all. The flies are merely having fun. They lay bets on who can skim the tea without contact. All we see in our tea are the losers.

A Darwin award theory you might call it.

Incidentally, how does one remove a kamikaze tea fly? My method is a quick scoop with the forefinger. The fly sticks to the finger and is easily flicked off into oblivion.

For the upper classes taking tea on the lawn, the butler would do it with a sliver fly-spoon from Asprey. Even more exotic would be a delicate Ming dynasty fly spoon carved from a single sliver of green jade, but that’s another world.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Death, taxes and wrong ideas

One thing the internet highlights very well is the frustrating problem of wrong ideas. Thanks to the web, the inexhaustible reservoir of human drivel is now impossible to miss. Not only that, but as with the Lernaean Hydra, cutting off one head seems to create two more.

Good ideas are constrained by reality, but wrong ideas are constrained by nothing whatever. That’s why they are so eternally popular with blockheads and charlatans.

Yet oddly enough we need some wrong ideas to dream up better ones. Obvious enough I suppose, be in the hustle and bustle of daily life it is easy to downplay the undoubted social value of having a smattering of wrong ideas.

Unfortunately, wrong ideas have a much greater and entirely pernicious value to those who make political, commercial or even personal use of their infinite variety.

Yet even here wrong ideas tell us something, even if it is no more than a clue to the motives of those who use them. Other people I mean - because we never have wrong ideas ourselves do we? We would never use a wrong idea for personal gain would we?

So the real problem with wrong ideas is not so much that they are wrong, but that they are so conveniently numerous for promoting vested interests and comfort zones. 

Yet surely free speech ought to expose even the most politically useful wrong ideas to the corrective influence of...

Of what?

More wrong ideas? Do the infinite resources of Drivel always send their Non Sequitur Cavalry galloping over the hill in the nick of time? Well yes. Blockheads and charlatans cannot possibly run out of wrong ideas.

Along with death and taxes they appear to be a fact of life.

Friday 2 May 2014

A child's chair

This is a Victorian child's chair in our guest bedroom. It's for clothes and suchlike, not for sitting. 

Antiques usually have something to say about their times and in the case of this chair I think it's particularly obvious. I'm not thinking of the Aesthetic Movement style here, but rather the basic design.

Firstly there are no stretchers for little George or Georgina to climb on and off the chair themselves. The chair does not encourage that degree of independence.

Secondly there are neither arm rests nor footrest. George or Georgina have to sit up straight with their legs dangling into space or they will fall off. No wriggling around, no stretching across the table for an extra slice of cake.

Ah - those soft-hearted Victorians.

Thursday 1 May 2014

The camshaft bribe

From Wikipedia
Computer animation of a camshaft operating valves

A well-worn issue this, but still worth asking in the interests of clarity.

Decades ago, someone I knew had a camshaft problem on his car a few days before he was due to get married. Specialist work was required and there was a backlog, but the car was essential for the honeymoon. What to do?

Well he simply went round to the workshop and offered twenty pounds to the guy in charge, which was a reasonable bribe in those days.

“You’re next,” was the response and all went well.

So if an NHS patient sees an NHS consultant and opts for private treatment by that same consultant, is that pretty much the same type of queue-jumping bribe? Legally it isn’t bribery and probably the camshaft issue wasn't either, but should we see both examples as bribery to the extent of calling them bribery?

Or are they merely examples of markets doing their stuff and paying for a better service is perfectly okay? 

To my mind, many forms of legal bribery are endemic in the UK, but so is evasive language. The NHS illustration is entirely legal of course, but in effect NHS consultants accept queue-jumping bribes. Why not say so?

It's good to be explicit isn't it? 

But would I use money to jump the queue if a loved happened to be faced with a long wait for an essential operation to resolve a painful or debilitating condition?


Does that make me corrupt? Maybe, or maybe it is only a rational response to an imperfect world. Yet I would not shy away from the word bribe if it came up. 

So does explicit language leave us with a better situation or a worse?