Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year, this is our favorite "group" photo from 2008, taken in the sun at the end of a week on the beach in Languedoc. Let's hope 2009 is as sunny, as warm and as inviting!

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Hiking Trail site and format

I am not the only one thinking design changes are good at this time of year. While I like the Google Blogger template I actually prefer the templates provided with iWeb. The only problem with iWeb is the lack of interaction except on photos (and I use Flickr for that). So I think Blogger will stay for the blog but the subsets of hiking trails, travelogs, galleries, etc. would seem to work better in iWeb. I have already done one site with iWeb, that of the genealogical findings about my own father, available here.

Now I have completed a revision of the Cader Idris trail and this is available for review and comment here. The photos used to link to Flickr and I think I will add the links here as well. Also, it would be useful to have a reference to a blog entry which would provide for comments, etc. Any other thoughts? BTW, the old entry is still available here.

Oh yes, I have also reduced the number of exclamation marks (!) to nearly zero. Looks and reads much better as a result.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


A geological term. It defines a break in the sequence of sedimentary rocks, usually with a significant time break between the older and newer sediments, often with a significant structural modification of the older rocks prior to deposition of the younger rocks. Such is the case in the Brian Gorge near Minerve in southern France:
Brian Gorge, the Unconformity
When one bed of rock is deposited directly on top of the preceding bed, we geologists say this is conformable. So when the beds have an angular discrepancy, as is the case here, we start looking for the unconformity between the two sequences. This photo shows the obvious rather well, with the gently dipping package of Cretaceous limestones resting across a series of steeply dipping Paleozoic rocks. Another view, below, shows that the surface of the unconformity is uniform, suggesting that the older sequence of rocks was eroded to a flat surface (peneplaned in geological vernacular) prior to the later deposition of limestones. The younger series of limestones has itself been tilted during the formation of the Alps.
Brian Gorge, the unconformity
Vegetation is also a key guide to defining the unconformity. The older rocks are generally impervious to water so plants and trees exist quite easily despite the long hot dry summers. The limestones are not so hospitable. The rivers in the area typically have water all year round where they flow over the Paleozoic rocks but are dry in the summer months over limestone. At one location we found a small spring of water issuing out along the unconformity - almost certainly a regular source of water for wildlife:
Spring at base Cretaceous unconformity, Cesse Gorge, Minerve

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Hypeless Christmas!

How many people agree with me? Christmas in the UK is now all hype and no fun at all. All that pressure leading up to Christmas Day often leads to a depressingly short celebration followed by the opening of bills that demonstrate that much of it cost too much and wasn't worth the effort.

So this year we opted out (an ongoing plan for every other year that seems to be working well), and spent the day on the beach between Cabanes de Fleury (northeast) and St. Pierre (southwest).

Having a Hypeless Christmas!

I switched on data roaming while at the groin near the mouth of the Rive l'Aude and took this screen capture of Google Maps satellite image. The blue circle is the GPS location. Data roaming can cost a lot when away from your host provider's country, so this has to be done sparingly! The hike was only about 3 kilometers each way but much of it was on energy sapping soft sand, giving our calf muscles, in particular, a good work out.

Early in the day, as we walked toward the southwest we could see not only Le Canigou (a large mountain west of Perpignan) but also most of the Pyrennees stretching off to the west. Later in the day the clouds rolled in over the mountains but the sun came out, warm enough for us to catch some rays in the lees of the sand dunes. Not warm enough to strip off, though!

More photos to follow.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


We passed through Lyon the other night, staying at a Novotel that looked remarkably similar to its counterpart at Birmingham International Airport.

Lyon is a fascinating city. The second city of France, it also lays claim to be the gastronomic capital of France as well as having roots in the French silk industry, the best French soccer team (OL) and a wonderful location at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone.

As a Brummie it pleases me that the two second cities of France and Britain decided to twin back in 1951. For some reason I feel very comfortable in Lyon, in fact much more so than when in Paris (a city I love, by the way).

Before we left the city we visited the open market (operating six days a week) on the bank of the Saone and stocked up on cheeses and vegetables before driving south down the Rhone valley.
April in Lyon

Saturday, December 20, 2008

French Tourist Translation

"You will appreciate inventive and original cooking while seeping nice regional wines, in a friendly atmosphere, attended by Sylvie."

I wish I could seep wine (while being attended by Sylvie!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Global Warming - oil, coal or something else?

Two articles today demonstrate the closed thinking about global warming. One states that coal is ten times worse than oil in terms of global warming. The other suggests that the amount of commercially extractable coal is a lot less than previously thought.

What neither article brings up is the fact that carbon dioxide is a relatively unimportant driver for climate change. Water vapor is, along with methane and other gases that emanate from volcanoes and cows, etc. By continually focussing on only the fossil fuel component we are being hammered into thinking there are no other factors involved.

Although I have a great deal of time for, both these articles are from its RSS subscription service. Read with caution!

Longbridge - Simply bad timing?

News that Jaguar Land Rover, now owned by Tata of India, is reportedly close to obtaining £1 billion in state aid to avoid probable layoffs in the current economic downturn.

What does this say for poor old Rover and the complete close down of the old "Austin" plant at Longbridge three years ago ?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No more Keynotes from Steve :(

The big news in Apple-land today is the announcement that Steve Jobs will not be giving the MacWorld keynote in January and that Apple will absent from Macworld 2010. Needless to say, there has been a flurry of negative thoughts in the blogosphere, as summed up in this Telegraph article.

By and large I agree with the article but here is my own twist on the subject. From the perspective of a user I agree that to announce new products in January seems to be bad timing, particularly as it will only piss off people who just bought the "latest" model a few weeks earlier for Christmas. When Apple only made computers this was less significant. Now the company is primarily a consumer product manufacturer.

The timing of announcements is more easily controlled if Apple organizes its own shows, as and when the product is properly ready. This is significant in that many Apple fans have got accustomed to the idea that version 2.0 or at least 1.1 is worth waiting for! (Think of Aperture as a good example).

It is clear that, no matter what Apple announces in January, the stock usually slumps because investors assume that the Christmas sales period is over and new products will take a while to be accepted (see above). I bet Apple's management have noticed this; after all, they own a lot of stock!

Macworld is simply a trade show, that's all. Trade shows are a dying breed in this day and age.

But I will miss Steve's Keynotes. He is one of the best presenters in the business and his eye for detail and excellence are paragons for the rest of us to only wish to follow. He does, after all, have his own very special reality distortion field! Hopefully we will continue to have some online coverage of new product announcements?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A 303 "Trunk Route"

News today that a small section of the A 303 will be closed for 3 months with a 50 mile diversion through surrounding villages and the small town of Gillingham.

What is interesting to me about this report is that no mention is made of the fact that precious little has been done to upgrade the A303 for perhaps 25 years. Originally designed as an alternative trunk road from London to the South West, the A303 passes through very few large towns, unlike its older, parallel route, the A30. So it was relatively easy to start to widen the A303 and construct some bypasses around potential bottlenecks. But amazingly, the job was never finished, even after the M3 was completed from Sunbury to Basingstoke. There are several well known but unavoidable two lane bottlenecks, including the entire Blackdown Hills in East Devon.

The last piece of completed road was the Honiton Bypass, infamous for the environmentalists who did everything they could to stall construction. Ironically this section is not named the A303 but the A30, as the two roads merge east of Honiton. The Blackdown Hills section of the A303 may never be upgraded as a link road has been improved from Ilminster to Taunton. This road, the A358 is still single lane so there is little actual improvement. Worse, the A358 feeds into the already congested M5 for all travelers heading to Devon and Cornwall.

According to Google Maps, a journey from Taunton to Kent takes the same time whether one uses the A303 or the M5/M4. The latter route is significantly longer but offers a better drive over three lane motorway standard roads. In the summertime both roads are likely to be congested with long tailbacks at accidents and roadworks, so you need to plan ahead!

But this spring it looks as though the M4/M5 route is a no-brainer.

Now that we are in a recession, it is reasonable to ask why nothing was done to improve the A303 when the coffers were full and the economy running at full steam. ironically the one major foreign currency earner we have when the Pound is weak is foreign tourism. A good road system (as in France) would make all the difference for the many small businesses in the Southwest that rely upon tourism.

My guess is that, using the recession as a feeble excuse, any improvements to the A303 will be postponed indefinitely.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nigel Lawson - a good article

Today's Sunday Telegraph carries an interesting, well thought out and presented essay by Nigel lawson on the global warming/carbon economy fiasco we have endured during the past weeks.

It's worth reading and the comments are also useful as a barometer (not thermometer) of public opinion. One small quote to get you going:

"Professor Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics, a distinguished political scientist who, as it happens, accepts the majority view of the climate science, has pointed out why, for this and other reasons, the Kyoto approach is doomed.

"But the vested interest of the great climate change circus, and the gratifying opportunities it presents for global grandstanding, have ensured that his analysis is ignored."

Note that Lawson isn't afraid of mixing and matching his sources, unlike the religious greens who cannot accept anything that isn't written in the good green book. They need to start emulating Lawson's approach for two reasons. First it will make their case more acceptable to the undecided. Second, the undecided will be able to make up their minds with a greater clarity of information.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ice at Gatwick

The other morning London's second airport at Gatwick was closed due to ice on the runway, an aerial equivalent of the "leaves on the line" that close down British railway traffic.

As a relatively frequent user of Canadian airports in the winter I have to seriously wonder about this. Usually it is the airplanes that need to be de-iced, not the runways. But in this case the weather in London has barely gone below freezing this past week, so any excuse that Gatwick experienced "exceptional weather conditions" seems far-fetched.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Would you reply to this?

I received an e-mail this morning. Another phishing trip, most probably:

I am Mr Ming Yang,i have an obscured busines suggestion for you.please Contact me for further details on my Email

"Obsured busines suggestion"? Say what!

A recent discussion on one of the Mac-oriented sites discussed the problem of whether or not to have anti-virus software installed. The first line of defense that many recommend is quite simple: Don't reply to e-mails like these!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Wind Powered Electricity - Some Clear Thinking!

Today there is some hope for sanity in the debate over how much wind powered electricity the UK can depend on.

The key to 34% reliance on wind power is, apparently, to be found in as yet unproven technology to store power for when the wind doesn't blow. That should make us all feel comfortable.

There are ways, of course, but they simply add on to the already prohibitive cost of wind generation. Remember that wind generated electricity is only viable with huge public subsidies. So the various ideas for storing energy that we might be able to come up with are simply going to add the cost.

Simple storage examples already exist but they require excess capacity at the generation stage and the potential for huge energy transmission losses. One possibility would be to link a wind farm to a hydro-electric plant. On windy days pump water from a lower reservoir back up to a higher reservoir and re-cycle the water through the hydro-electric turbines. But this would require extra capacity at the wind farm! One wonders if the politicians ever think things through!

The Wire - an update

A few months ago I bought Year 1 of The Wire. I am now half way through Year 3. This is fantastic TV if a little bloody and full of bad language. But both these attributes are real life scenarios, unfortunately, so to try to produce a police drama in downtown Baltimore without them would be like traditional James Bond without the blood - meaningless entertainment.

The Wire was produced for HBO, a premium cable channel in the US which can do this sort of thing as cable boxes come with parental controls, etc., etc. The realism is chilling but so often it is the clever script, filming and editing that makes the program so compelling. Couple these with excellent characterizations of the many lead players and the experience is complete.

Why do I like The Wire? Well, when we lived in Houston we lived in or perhaps I should say next to areas that are similar to those depicted in the series. At one residence we were separated from a series of run-down apartments by a power line easement but the apartment residents found a way to cut across and we would wake up to empty bottles of malt liquor thrown onto the front lawn. On one occasion a stolen car was chased straight into our fire hydrant with not so spectacular results (i.e. the Hollywood fountain effect was not there!) Two weeks later, after the city repaired the hydrant, it happened again!

Weekend nights were often punctuated by gunfire as drive by shootings down Sherwood Lane were the norm. So often the gunfire would go blam, blam, blam, blam, blam, blam. Six chambers in a revolver. There is a scene in Series 3 where an ex-con is handed a semi-automatic with 15 rounds in the magazine. He complains that revolvers are better because they don't jam - I suspect he's right!

When we finally moved to Montrose I went to a resident's meeting and heard naive neighbors complain about firecrackers being let off at night. I asked them how many bangs there were and explained that they may not have been firecrackers!

Stef Lewandowski has just posted an interesting take on The Wire, suggesting that there is a lot more to be gained from the series than simple entertainment. I would agree but of course we can all probably come up with a different set of experiences. Just as we probably all have a favorite character. Mine, for the record, is Bunk Morland.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dunster by Candlelight

Photos will follow. Last evening we took the train (West Somerset Railway) from Bishops Lydiard to Dunster and walked up to the village where the main street was closed to traffic and open to people. Wonderful! Unfortunately the evening was spoiled by dinner at the Castle Hotel, booked five weeks ago but no table available when we arrived. Excuses included a new management who clearly didn't know what they were doing. We won't be eating or staying there again, which is a pity as the chef is good and an large investment has been made in upgrading the facilities.

The return journey was an amalgamation of two trains and consisted of 10 coaches double headed by 2-8-0 3850 and 2-6-0 9351.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I don't want Flash

on my iPhone! I really couldn't care if I didn't have it on my Mac either. Flash based websites are a pain with those 0-100% "loading" bars and pointless, download-heavy graphics.

Then I remembered that I have a couple of Flash-based slide shows generated by Lightroom (also an Adobe product) so I'm going to have to do something about that!

Detractors of the iPhone love to bring up the lack of Flash. I am quite happy not to have it and I am not alone. Meantime, web developers should seriously consider providing a Flash-less alternative to their Flash-heavy sites.

680,000 Homes (some of the time)

The BBC reports that the "world's second largest offshore windfarm" has gained approval. It will be located 10 miles off the North Wales coast in the Irish Sea.

The key is, of course, in the numbers. When all 150 turbines are rotating and generating, the farm will provide electricity for 680,000 homes. When they are not generating electricity, those homes will rely on conventional electricity generation which has to be maintained on standby.

Although the Irish Sea is a windy place, it is not always windy and sometimes it may be too windy for safe operation of the turbines. Proof that this is so was seen when flying over the Furness area one sunny morning when not one of the existing wind turbines was rotating (you'll have to believe me on this as a "still" photo is hardly conclusive evidence!)

Offshore Wind Farm

On Light Bulbs

So, we understand that good old tungsten (incandescent) light bulbs are to be phased out. To be replaced by "energy efficient" bulbs that produce less light, take time to warm up and reach operating levels and contain toxic levels of mercury that will require special disposal (read, drive them to your local re-cycling center).

Those halogen downlighter lamps aren't much better - it seems they have a tendency to blow circuit breakers when they fail and are also a pain to replace. Our local electrician, a nice guy, replaces old ladies' downlighter bulbs for free because they simply cannot do it themselves.

The answer, we are told, is to stock pile a load of tungsten bulbs. But due to modern product diversity we now have bayonet cap and screw cap bulbs in various wattages and physical shapes and sizes.

As someone said recently: "And this is called progress?"

Progress is a strange word these days - look at this quote from the link:

On September 27, 2007, the government in the United Kingdom announced plans to phase out the sale of incandescent light bulbs by 2011.[18] Under the plan, retailers will voluntarily decline to stock 150 watt bulbs from January 2008, 100 watt bulbs from January 2009, 40 watt bulbs in 2010, and all remaining bulbs by 2011. These plans are voluntary, however they have had wide support from retailers and consumers. The initiative has, however, been criticised by environmental groups such as Greenpeace, and other political parties, who believe mandatory measures should be introduced.

I am not sure what the difference is between a "voluntary decline" and "mandatory measures" in that ultimately there will be no choice, regardless.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Stressing the Intangible

The present times are difficult for most people. The so-called "credit crunch" (I prefer "credit crisis" but I'm not the media) is hurting just about anyone who has bills to pay, taxes to pay, jobs to keep and families to feed. So it is only natural that our great and wonderful leaders should now stress the intangible.

Top of their list, of course, is the fight against climate change. Climates change but we must stop them at all costs.

But look out for other devious reasons to accept the crunch. Like asteroids. Yes, we must be especially fearful of an asteroid collision now that the global financial situation is so precarious. It's as though the banks had erected a special asteroid shield but now it has been dissolved along with easily available credit.

In the weeks ahead we can expect drinking water, genetically modified food and wind turbines to get their day in the world court of righteousness.

Water Well

Don't get me wrong. Poverty, lack of potable water and decent sanitation are all high on my list of undesirables. Happy to say I am doing my bit to try to help, but I really do get tired of the bandwagon hitchhikers.

Oxfam joins the bandwagon


Expect lots more of the same in the next ten days.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I've been listening to seasonal music from New York, courtesy of 106.7 Lite fm. This is one of several radio stations available for streaming on the iPhone, using the app iheartradio.

The quality is excellent. Why is it that, when in the UK we can't receive BBC radio with decent reception inside our home yet can stream quality internet radio from just about everywhere else?

A great big plug for Stef Lewandowski's latest creation - Stef is one of the most creative entrepreneurs I have met and I love what he does. His latest idea is a web-site for dads, a social, interactive site for sharing problems, solutions, ideas, whatever. Do check it out, even if you are not a dad. In fact I would suggest it may have a good deal of relevance to mums as well.

Your images are being uploaded. . .

to Blogger. No, they're not! This is a hit and miss thing at best. Funny how this one worked, though!