Monday, July 30, 2007

Slugs and Snails

Although closely related, slugs and snails seem to garner very different reactions from people. Not that all people like snails, but how many people do you know who like slugs? I thought so!
Brown Snail - 2
The snail is a much loved creature in children's books - I think the most famous snail is probably Brian who even has his own web site. A cheerful chap he is a true French "escargo" from the TV show Magic Roundabout.

So where is Sammy the Slug? Nowhere to be see. Which is unfortunate as slugs can be most attractive as this photo demonstrates.
Red Slug - Arion rufus
The problem, of course, is the poor slug's lack of a shell, a house on its back. Most slugs have some sort of exoskeleton though ironically this may be located inside the slug. Also, while snails have some external mucus (usually seen as their trails), slugs have much more mucus on their skin, giving a rather slimy look to the creature.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's time the UK stopped being a Third World Country with First World Attitudes

While the middle of England tackles unprecedented flooding with little or no help from Westminster (unless you call a promise to study the problem "help") the Secretary of Defence announces a £3.8 billion order for two aircraft carriers.

Yes, there will be job creation in industries that are fast losing their job skills due to closures and a lack of orders. So I suppose there will be re-training programs to add to the cost. Then there are the "natural" cost overruns that always seem to accompany government projects (need I mention the 2012 Olympics?)

But what about some expenditure on flood relief? They're thinking about it. But they are also thinking about how to build even more houses on flood plains, no doubt with no provision for protection from flooding.

Monday, July 23, 2007

More on Flooding

Back in the relative safety of Somerset it is hard not to think of all those people, many of them friends and neighbors, who have had water pass through their homes in the past several days.

In Chipping Campden we experienced one type of flood - the sort that comes literally down the hillside, rises rapidly through homes and leaves almost as quickly. The devastation that this type of "upland" flood causes is terrible but at least something can be done when the sun comes out, as it did yesterday.

In the major river valleys of the Severn, Avon and Thames, the story is a very different one. Here the water level rises almost imperceptibly, perhaps as fast as an inch per hour (as is the case in Oxford at the moment). There is plenty of time to prepare, it would seem, but in fact it is very difficult to prepare for this type of flood. The mind keeps saying "it can't rise any more" while the eyes tell otherwise, with the result that little is done to stem the flow. Besides, no amount of sand-bagging and other flood defences will guarantee a lack of flooding inside a home - water will always find the weak spot. Once inundated, a river bank town suffers days of flooding. Curfews prevent homeowners from going near their homes and possessions. This is so much more frustrating for the casualties than the upland type of flood.

I am appalled by the lack of action by the political leaders in the UK. There is no UK equivalent of the US FEMA as far as I can tell and local government seems to be the only aspect of public support that can be offered to the people (which seems fair enough until you realize that local government is strapped for funding because property taxes apparently go to the treasury and are then apportioned back to the districts on what London says is a fair distribution - I will stand to be corrected on this last statement as it emanated from pub talk).

Other than neighbor supporting neighbor, there appears to be no Salvation Army or other emergency relief agency, capable of bringing resources to bear.

Of course, the British are known for their stoicism. One good friend of ours, an 80+ year old widow, absolutely refuses to move out of her two story home even though the ground floor was inundated with 4 inches of water. Neighbors help neighbors, good humor usually prevails.

But not when visiting tourists think it is right and proper to photograph piles of sodden furniture and belongings stacked outside homes, to stare through open windows, to drive slowly past pointing and snapping as they go. We are not going to post any photos we took (all of our own damage, I might say, for insurance purposes) and we wish that sites like the BBC would stop asking for photos to be submitted for public display. That is "rubber necking" internet style, if you were to ask me.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Flood

Well, we returned to our home in Chipping Campden this morning, wondering what we would find. As it turned out, we had the best of situations - no not total dryness, that was already outside the range of possibilities - but about 4 inches of water ingress. Which meant the kitchen was OK and only the floors needed cleaning out. Even so, that took all day. The mud was the surprise as past experiences didn't seem to include much mud.

We have two oriental carpets that need major resucscitation (I know that is spelled wrong!) but otherwise the only thing we now need is warmth to dry out the remaining damp. So central heating in July.

Oh yes, the full length drapes managed to sup up a whole lot of flood water, so they are looking a little ragged.

Possibily the worst area for us was outside - more mud, far from glorious mud.

But spare a thought for neighbors who had up to 4 feet of water in their homes. Many are walking around zombie like, unable to comprehend that there is a future. Others who have recognized the future thing are slightly punch drunk at this stage, 48 hours into the post-flood scenario.

As I mentioned to several neighbors - remember, there is always someone worse off than you. It's a message easily accepted and it does ease the pain and uncertainty.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Flooded again!

For the second time in ten years, we have a flooded house, and, for the second time in ten years, we have just moved out of it. I guess the latter bit of news is good, but we shall see tomorrow just how much damage has been done. It all depends on how many inches of water entered above the ground floor level. More than 3 inches and we are in trouble. Expect more (or less) on this subject when we find out the extent of the damage.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Napoli Madness

The container ship Napoli, stranded off our favorite beach since January, is now the subject of fresh news reports as they try to blow it apart. All that has happened so far is to release more oil onto the nearby beaches, causing swimming bans, etc. on a "world heritage coatline". Hah!!!!

Here is the sad truth. Any time the oil indutsry has a problem, they deploy a containment boom aropund a tanker, oil rig or whatever. The Napoli folk have a containment boom. But they haven't deployed it. Why? Because the amount of oil they expected to be released from the "cleaned" tanks would be minimal. Apparently the amount released wasn't minimal.

Next time you read about the oil industry causing major oil spills, think about this one. Please.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Deja Vu - Change of Equipment in Singapore

This is hard to believe! Singapore Airlines is one of the most respected and efficient of airlines with service that transcends what we seem to be capable of putting up with from other so-called national airlines. But here I am, in the airport lounge in Singapore, waiting for a change of equipment. The 747-400 we originally boarded has no brakes so I am back in the airport for a three hour delay.

What is slightly amazing is that the very same experience occurred to me here 30 years ago on a 747 flight from Singapore to London with the same carrier. Only then we took off before realizing there were no brakes and that resulted in a slightly longer delay as we had to dump fuel and land.

Now there is a moral to this entry. When you fly from the hub of an airline there is always the possibility that a spare plane will be available. That doesn't happen when you are a world away from the home base.

In defense of Singapore Airlines, let me say that they really couldn't soften the blow any more than they have. The airline generates an aura of politeness that hasn't changed over the years. Service still comes with a smile and no-one on their team lets the side down. Too bad they don't operate a service between London and Calgary!!!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Asia for a change

Today I find myself back in Jakarta for a few days. How this place has changed since my first visit in 1974! There is not one landmark I recognize even since my last visit in 1996.

As in 1996, the locals are amazed I even know a few words of bahasa. "Selamat Pagi (Good Morning)" is received with astonished looks. Mind you, I find myself wanting to use French rather than Malay, but it wouldn't take too long to get accustomed to the latter. One thing that hasn't changed - the lovely warm smiles that are the birthright of every Indonesian!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

iTunes Libraries

My PowerBook hard drive is always nearly full. The biggest culprit is iTunes, particularly with the movies taking up around a gigabyte or more each. So I have decided to dedicate a LaCie portable drive (160 BG, the largest) to my complete iTunes library of music, TV shows and movies.

I will probably maintain a smaller library on the PowerBook containing favorite music and recent movies. The library of choice is easily selected by holding the option key down while loading iTunes.

The only danger I see is the piotential for erasing the sync-ed larger library from the iPod. This will become a moot point when the LaCie drive has more files than the iPod can hold, but for now I will have to be careful when sync-ing the iPod.

Eventaully the 160 GB LaCie drive will mirror an Apple TV. But that is down the road a ways.

iTunes recommendations appear to work

Like, iTunes follows your spending habits and attempts to make recommendations based on your historical selections. I recently received an e-mail suggesting that, since I had bought the Guillemots' "Looking through the Windowpane" I might also like the (Band of) Bees' "Octopus". I tried a few tracks and agreed with the suggestion.

I also received a recommendation to try out a few tracks of Brian Ferry's "Dylanesque", having bought "Frantic" last year. Another selection that went into the shopping cart.

This approach seems so much better than idly wandering about a record store, turning over CD cases.

Which Airport?

Having moved away from the Midlands, I am in a bit of a quandary. Birmingham International (BHX) is a medium sized airport serving a large area and as such offers some excellent services without the hassle of a major airport like (ugh!) Heathrow.

Yesterday I suffered the trials and tribulations of a smaller airport and a budget airline. Enough to make me want to drive the 2-1/2 hours to BHX and enjoy the relative sophistication that is available there.