Friday, February 27, 2009

The mirror gun

It would appear that the global warming lobby is getting more and more desperate if their ideas for combatting climate change are anything to go by. The latest concept is reported here.

Personally I find such schemes very frightening. Scientists have yet to make a climate model that actually works but are "going ahead" with schemes to stop something they have yet to prove is happening. And the costs! $350 trillion is no small sum, in fact it is unimaginably huge.

Let's just suppose that the climate does change but in the opposite direction, heading straight for another ice age (there have been four cycles already so that is not as unpredictable as you might think). So there are a trillion mirrors up there, acting as a giant sunshade and hastening the cooling. It doesn't take much imagination to work out that the mirrors are not going to be removed in a hurry.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The iPhone's camera

Just how good is the iPhone's camera function? If you compare it to a $1,000 plus digital SLR, then the truth is it is a very inflexible piece of kit. The literal "point and click" camera with absolutely no user control.

Even so, given the right conditions, the iPhone can take reasonably good photos. Ideally the sun should be behind the camera and the range of light contrast should not be too great. For example, two thirds sky will bias the exposure setting, making the landscape or headshot much too dark.
West Greenland - 3
This is an example of what can be achieved.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Down Memory Lane

Another "heads up" from Pete. This time it's a link to a group called 28 Days Later who investigated an open factory door at 3, Legge lane, Birmingham and went inside to take photographs and report to the world.

If that address isn't familiar (why should it be?) then I should explain that it was the location of Ashton & Moore (Metal Colourers) Ltd. until very recently. They've upped sticks and moved to another location in Hockley.

But this is the location I knew and in fact I really grew up there, spending many a day during school holidays. I actually thought that was what most school kids did! And when I was old enough I went to work as the maintenance man's assistant (he was a Polish refugee named Joe).

The place looks a bit worse than I remember, what with the inevitable industrial decay. But it's good to know that the business has moved on and hopefully up.

I wonder what will become of it? The rather fine Victorian terracotta frontage is the only thing worth saving so I suppose it will all come down in the name of progress. The chemicals used (see photos) probably mean that the building could never be used as a loft style residence.

For more history on the site, try this. And the A&M site is here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tiger Oil - the memos

Pete sent me this link. He also asked me if I knew the owner of Tiger Oil but I am pleased to say that I never met him, never mind worked for him!

That is not to say that some of his demands from his employees don't ring a bell. One owner I worked for had very similar views and could express them just as succinctly! But his language was slightly more in tune with today's terminology - he didn't fire me, he "let me go".

Sunday, February 15, 2009


No steam trains here, just honest people who see wrong and want to do the right thing.

It seems to me that the term "whistleblower" is viewed as derogatory by many people in society. This seems to be strange but perhaps most of us simply do not like to see our boat rocked. There is nothing quite like the status quo even if this means we are losing out on something important.

Whistleblowers tend to create mayhem if the aftermath of their revelations are anything to go by. Think Enron in 2002 or HBoS in 2008. In each case the primary whistleblower opened up a can of worms that reverberated through society. The real perpetrators of the mayhem haven't exactly got away scot fee but why should the whistleblower carry any of the burden?

I knew several of the key players in the Enron failure and had friends in both Enron and Vinson & Elkins. Friends lost all their savings though misguided loyalty to the company and its ever-climbing and then rapidly plummeting stock. I am sure similar events surround the collapse in the various (many) banks during the current crisis of confidence.

Confidence is the problem. So often the houses of mirrors that reflect a supposed confidence start to implode and when a concerned employee sees what is happening and tries to do something, the collapse is inevitable. In the worst cases it would appear the the whistleblower approached senior management who denied the problem and maintained business as usual. Regulatory agencies likewise ignored the tell-tail signs while the politicians merely hoped the inevitable would not happen on their watch.

I say "Raise a glass to the whistleblower, revere him or her as the custodian of sound capitalism!"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Beehives and Black Horses

This rather strange title refers to Lloyds Bank, much in the news today. Lloyds was founded in Birmingham in 1765 as a private bank to assist manufacturers and traders in the city, then a major player in the period of Enlightenment. This was the zenith of the Lunar Society's activities.

Lloyds has gone from strength to strength and, together with Barclays has been a survivor. How it will weather the current banking crisis will be interesting to say the least.

Gordon Brown apparently brokered the take over of HBOS by Lloyds to create was was then called a great opportunity. I doubt if Lloyds shareholders would now agree, particularly as the truth about HBOS' reckless business model is still emerging. As an Enlightenment start-up, Lloyds was probably also anti-Establishment. Present day management has obviously joined the Establishment.

So what of the beehive? It was the bank's first symbol, representing hard work and industry (and I bet bees don't earn bonuses!) Later the bank took over premises that had a black horse as its symbol. The black horse was possibly adopted simply to save money!

Oh how things have changed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

IEP - lots of new trains by 2015!

The Intercity Express Programme (IEP) has made a major step forward with the award of a significant order. Good news but perhaps we should also note that this is almost certainly too little too late for solving growth problems within British Railways. By the time they are introduced the demand will be even higher than it is today.

The winning group includes Hitachi which is building the high speed Kent trainsets; this may well have been a deciding factor in the selection. Comparison of various modern trainsets (the HS125/HS225 is hardly modern and yet gives a better ride than more recent designs) suggests that Bombardier probably should have been passed by; they built the Virgin Voyagers, with the stinking toilets! While the Adalente design by Alsthom, ugly as it is, has also not been a big hit because of reliability issues.

I only hope the winning design is as good as the HS125/HS225 design it will ultimately replace.

Charles Darwin - 200 celebrates Charles Darwin's 200th birthday with a very useful piece on the history and details of evolutionary theory. Some comments:

I am pleased that Alfred Russel Wallace gets a mention - he made similar observations and drew the same conclusions as Darwin while traveling through the East Indies. It was his determination to publish his findings that finally drove Darwin to put pen to paper. In this way Wallace is the other hero of evolutionary theory.

Dinosaur Footprint
The teaching of evolution in schools should not be too difficult. Children love dinosaurs, heck they often know more Linnean names for dinosaurs that many fully qualified geologists (including me!) Evolution should be taught within their context, both the ability to adapt as well as the forces of natural selection can be easily applied. (That's a dinosaur's footprint taken in a stream bed in Central Texas, ©

My own recollections of learning about evolution started in primary school when we were shown pictures of a moth that was light colored in the country but dark in industrial areas so that it blended with its background. Such subjects should be taught early, not left until too late!

Obama's scientific support

The BBC once again demonstrates that it has an agenda on climate change without questioning the source or providing an alternative point of view. Professor James McCarthy, president of the AAAS, makes this statement:

"We have a moment right now of extraordinary opportunity, with a new president, positioned with scientific leadership that has known no equal in recent times. The calibre of scientific advice that is close to this man is truly exceptional. If in his first term, in the next four years, we don't make significant progress in these areas, then I think the planet is in huge trouble."

So it may be worth considering two of Obama's inner circle.

1. The Vice President, Joe Biden, said this on climate change during the VP debate:

BIDEN: "If you don't understand what the cause is, it's virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is man made. That's the cause. That's why the polar ice cap is melting."

(At least that "dumb candidate" Sarah Palin knew something about climate cycles)

2. The previous VP, Al Gore. He won a Nobel Prize for his "Inconvenient Truth" film that has since been barred from showing in UK schools because it is flawed. His own carbon footprint is full of hypocrisy, while his carbon trading schemes are designed to add riches to his personal coffers.

As someone I know often says: "We should be scared, very scared."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Good Timing?

It is interesting to see a chief scientist at Britain's Meteorological Office predict that Scotland won't have a ski industry in 50 years. I suppose that the time to make global warming predictions is when the weather is at unusually cold levels - that way it is hard to be proved wrong, but it is strange that a Met Office specialist can predict the weather fifty years from now yet usually gets it wrong to the next day.

Of course he does have a point - there is a difference between weather and climate, though this is not entirely obvious to many people, including, unfortunately, the politicians.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mountain Rescue

The news has been littered recently with stories of British hikers and climbers who have succumbed to the elements while tackling normally well-signed trails in dangerous conditions. Now the authorities are asking that only the experienced and well-equipped should even contemplate being out on a mountain.

Quite right.

But there are some unanswered questions here. As we have pointed out in several of our hiking trail travelogues (particularly Big Bend, Texas and Cader Idris, Wales), it is imperative that hikers set out with the right equipment and knowledge, that they do not underestimate the conditions that may exist hours from starting out, and that they turn round and head for home before it is too late.

We personally know far more about survival in a desert environment (Big Bend) than on a cold British mountainside but the basic rules are not very different. We noticed several people hiking up Cader Idris with minimal equipment, the idea being that with less to carry it is possible to get up and back in next to no time. The problem with this is that an unexpected sprained ankle or a sudden change in the weather leaves the hiker fatally exposed to dangerous conditions.

But there is another side to this debate. Unfortunately there is a complete lack of education on dealing with these situations nowadays. The primary reason I can think of is that H&S dictates that such activities should not be encouraged because by explaining the risks we may be encouraging the taking of those risks. I am not sure what the answer is here, but one story I recently heard in Cornwall is that schoolchildren were only allowed to go on a field trip to a well known and safe summer holiday beach if they kept their shoes on. This sort of protective mentality is not only sending the wrong message, it is also limiting the experience and education of how to cope with risk.

Great Britain, the nation that sent explorers to the poles and the highest mountains, is losing its ability to explore.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tornado in London

No, this is not a weather report. The brand new steam locomotive, A1 Class 60163 "Tornado" made its first long distance revenue earning trip from Darlington to London. This report makes much of the fact that it took "twice as long" as a modern train. However, to be fair to the steam locomotive's timing it had to stop three times to replenish its water supply. When steam trains regularly pulled main line expresses they had the capability to scoop water up from troughs or pans laid down between the tracks. These have been long removed.

If you would like to see a particularly good photo of the locomotive, Flickr member freefotouk has one! Should you be wondering, Peppercorn was the name of the chief engineer who designed the original A1 Class.


More Somerset Snow - 4

Snowy Somerset

Somerset Snow - 3
It's been a snowy week in the UK. This photo was taken on Friday morning on top of the Brendon Hills near Bathealton. Blizzard conditions overnight with a strong north wind created these drifts.
Somerset Snow - 2
Further down the lane we came across a tree blocking our way. The heavy wet snow caused a lot of trees and limbs to break and fall. This one completely blocked access for the local farmer trying to get hay to his cattle (he did manage to get to the field the long way round).

Sticks and Stones. . . .

There seems to have been a plethora of "celebrity" name-calling in recent months and the BBC is generally at the center of the storms-in-a-teacup.

First we had the despicable behavior of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross (neither of whom I have ever seen or heard on TV and radio) which caused Brand to be banished (and his career perhaps enhanced) while Ross was forced to take three months off without pay. And now Ross is back he has shown that his style of humor hasn't been tempered by the mild slap on the wrist he received.

Last week we had two interesting events that both had a political twist. Carol Thatcher and Jeremy Clarkson, both on the payroll of the BBC, have fallen foul of its rules. The former, daughter of ex-PM Margaret Thatcher, appears to have been rather stupid in using the term "golliwog" while on the BBC's premises. She has refused to apologize and has been fired.

Then Jeremy Clarkson referred to the current PM as a "one-eyed Scottish idiot". He subsequently apologized but tempered the apology with the statement that he still considers Gordon Brown to be an idiot. He hasn't been fired (as least not yet, and probably won't be).

What is interesting about all three events is that the BBC demanded an apology as if this would set everything to right. Make an apology that has no sincerity (as I think Ross did) and you are back at work. Refuse to apologize and you've lost your job. Make a politically correct apology and you will probably be OK.

Readers of this blog will know I think the BBC should be pared down with a large hatchet into two radio channels and one TV channel. Everything that they do in competition with commercial radio and TV should be privatized. In other words, the BBC should be more like America's PBR/PBS. But for as long as celebrities like Ross and Clarkson earn high ratings and (for Top Gear at least) overseas earnings for the BBC they will no doubt continue to be excused.

So what is the big picture emerging from all this? The BBC appears to be a law unto itself and doesn't always represent or cater to the wishes and demands of the license fee holders. It is damned difficult to opt out of the license fee and still own a TV (even if it may only be used to view non-broadcast material). But in reality the BBC is simply an extension of the way the present government (and future ones of any color if their manifestos are to be believed) has manipulated the way society works.

I grew up in a world where you said "Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never hurt me". Sometimes the words did hurt, it's true, and in today's terminology they were not politically correct. But we were no less tolerant then; in fact I think today's elites are hopelessly intolerant of anything they feel they must disagree with.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Good News from Brum!

Read all about it here!