Saturday, December 18, 2010

No more comments

It's quite simple. I am fed up with stupid comments to certain posts. So from now on there won't be any. This blog stays on line only for the archival value.

Social? Hardly.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Classy Lady!

Yes, Mary Chapin Carpenter has done it again. Her latest album, The Age of Miracles, is another milestone in her career and it is packed with good stuff. My favorite at the moment is Mrs. Hemingway, a soulful ballad set in Paris as a young American couple (the Hemingways) find their feet in a strange and wonderful city. Unfortunately, the new bride finds herself marginalized as Ernest falls in love with her best friend and discards her. But the song reminisces about those heady days. I quote a few lines:

there’s Sancerre and oysters
and cathedrals and cloisters
and time, with its unerring aim…

Good stuff indeed but there's more, so I'll let you buy the album to find out!

And to top it off, we have tickets to her concert in Town Hall, Birmingham!

Friday, July 16, 2010

iPhone 4 - what's the problem?

OK, I don't own one and I have only picked one up in the local Apple store and admired its looks. So I haven't actually used one, but I still very much want to upgrade to one when I can work out the best plan (why do they make them so compliqué?)

The point is, I will buy a case for mine so that when it accidentally falls on a concrete floor it won't get damaged. Apparently a case (or bumper as some want to call the device that separates sweaty palm from antenna strip) is all that's needed to prevent calls from dropping. Problem (what problem?) automatically solved!

And I was sure other smart phones have similar problems. A search revealed several models do indeed have similar problems.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

England and the World Cup

After all the hype, all the money, all the bullshit - England goes out with a bang against their old nemesis, Germany. There was even a disallowed goal to assist their demise. Do I care. Not a bit. Why? Well, here's a short list.

Football in England is owned by the Premiership, with some teams fielding 11 foreign players. This is clearly a big mistake if England is ever to foster talent.

Too often player power gets in the way. Players are team players, though you often would not know it.

The media is England's worst enemy when it tries to be its best friend.

Fabio Capello was a mistake. Notice that he renegotiated his contract days before the World Cup started. Talk about an incredible insurance policy! The FA will pay up. Never is a lesson learned when an organization believes its own bullshit.

English fans deserve better after all that hype but maybe they should just start to recognize the truth and boycott a few internationals.

I am honestly pleased that England are out of the World Cup - not for the fans who truly believed, but for my own sanity. I can now follow my priorities and "get a life"!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Letter to the Telegraph

SIR – Mr Simmons is correct that the weedkiller sodium chlorate has been banned throughout the EU (Letters, May 17).
Consequently it is widely available throughout France.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Computer Models and the Met Office

The criticisms of the UK Met Office's handling of the Iceland volcanic ash problem are rolling in. This once august enterprise has fallen on hard times, it seems, and much of this is because the scientists based at the new centre in Exeter seem to rely upon computer models rather than gather empirical data.

It is often the case that, if you happen to be in the Exeter area, the weather you experience is quite differenet from that which the Met Office is reporting. Do they have windows in their buildings? Possibly not, because computer screens are more easily viewed in darkened, inside rooms.

Here is a damning list of errors the Met office has made in recent years.

What needs to be added to the list is the fact that computer models are also the main criteria used to predict climate change. Huge political decisions have been made on the backs of spurious computer models that furnish similar predictions to those failures in the linked article. Some of these computer models were generated and promoted by the Met Office.

So why is it that politicians put so much trust in them?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Iceland

Some thoughts from a geologist on the impact of the latest volcanic eruption on Iceland.

Iceland is entirely built of volcanic material. It is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a plate boundary that is pulling apart, allowing new crust to form. Unlike most of the ridge, Iceland is above sea level and represents a "hot spot" along the ridge where there is exceptional activity.

We have known about Iceland's volcanoes for several centuries but only in the last 50 years have we understood the underlying plate tectonic mechanism. Iceland's volcanoes have been studied in much detail and there is good historical evidence for the frequency of eruptions, etc.

Volcanic ash is composed of very fine particles produced by violent eruptions within the volcano's vent. Much of this ash is derived from basalt or andesite lava and can be very finely crystalline. Sometimes the lava can cool so quickly it does not crystallize at all but becomes a glass (the mineral and semi-precious stone called obsidian). This glass component would appear to be one cause of mechanical degradation within machinery such as jet engines.

Because the eruptions eject vast amounts of ash directly into the upper atmosphere, the ash becomes subject to wind currents. In the upper atmosphere the jet stream, which flows from west to east, carries the ash in a general eastward direction. In summer, the northern jet stream migrates further north, which may have important ramifications for the months ahead should the volcano continue to erupt.

There is no easy way to determine when the volcano will cease its current activity. It will dissipate its internal pent up energy, so we can expect a general slowing down of activity. Days, weeks or months? No-one can be really sure but the chances are that ash content should fall to a manageable level sooner rather than later.

Can mankind do anything about this situation - why aren't we able to control this problem? Plate tectonic activities - earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis - are the most powerful forces on earth. There is nothing we can do to prevent them and there is no reason why we would think that we could stop or control them. We can't even predict them with any certainty.

The situation many people find themselves in today is difficult, to say the least. The problem is, we have been lulled into a sense of well-being and a belief that somehow we can be in control of Nature. Nowhere is this belief more pronounced than in the debate on anthropogenic global warming, a creed that is universally adopted by politicians and most of the media. It is therefore no wonder that so many lay people are taken in by the concept that we should not be hindered in our every day life by the machinations of Mother Nature.

Recently I read that scientists want to create a new geologic period. The Holocene (a.k.a. a time period considered to be "Recent") should now be relegated to geologic history as we are now in the "Anthropocene" Period, a time when Homo sapiens dominates the planet.

Only problem is, we don't dominate the planet. We barely influence a very small part of it.

Finally, I noticed that one BBC article on the volcanic ash story refers to some people who predicted rotten vegetables and flowers stuck in East Africa as "experts". I was so pleased to see that geologists are not referred to as "experts". Some of us may be experts in our particular field, but we remain, first and foremost, geologists.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Google Street View and the SAS

I just saw this report that has the UK Government worried that Google's Street View images of the SAS HQ in Herefordshire could compromise security. Actually, I have little sympathy for the government's position. As a country, the UK has more surveillance cameras pointed at its citizens than even the Soviet Union did in its heyday. "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" comes to mind.

Besides, numerous books have been published about the SAS HQ and it would not be difficult for a would be terrorist to work out where the SAS is headquartered, regardless of Google Street View.

But the most significant point in defense of Google's position is that all its street-view images are photographed from a public space. That alone means that it has done no wrong and in no way should Google bow to pressure to remove the images from the internet. The ramifications of doing such a thing would be far reaching.

Besides, the entrance to the SAS HQ doesn't exactly show very much about what may or may not be going on inside!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My take on High Speed 2

The recent announcement in a pre-election atmosphere that a short (120 mile) route of 250 mph high speed rail will be ready to board in 2026 is supposed to have us all in raptures.

First some, questions:

Q. Is Britain’s rail system creaking, under-financed and in some areas hopelessly over-subscribed?

A. Yes, the system is near breaking point and many (but not all) of the current problems appear to be related to privatization and compartmentalization of the once under-funded national system. Train ridership has increased dramatically over the last ten years but train frequency and train capacity has not. As a result the number of available cheap fares have been reduced, causing a huge increase in revenue that the public doesn’t believe is being re-invested.

Q. Most commuters feel that more needs to be done to improve their lot and that is certainly understandable - imagine paying thousands a year for a season ticket that never provides you with a seat in the rush hour. In a moment of self-serving pique, most commuters would rightly surmise that money needs to be thrown in their direction.

A. Commuters have a strong case in being disgruntled (I was one in the pre-privatization era and hated every moment of being on a London commuter train - or was it a sardine can on wheels?) The problem in commuterland is that the trains can’t get much longer and they can’t go bi-level due to the historically restricted loading gauge. The money required to improve commuter services may be even more than the budget for high speed rail.

Q. Britain is a relatively small country in terms of high speed rail issues. Is 250 mph really necessary or is this a game of future one-up-man-ship over other countries’ plans? Why not simply upgrade existing lines to go a bit faster?

A. I don’t think 250 mph is necessary. 186 mph would be fine. A decision to pare down the speed below that would allow existing tracks to be used but that would go against the above points - the existing system is already at bursting point in many areas. Dedicated high speed lines rated to 186 mph (300 kmph) as in Europe would make sense in that off the shelf technology is available at a much reduced component cost and trains would work over a wider network.

Q. Britain is generally considered to be London-centric. Are other UK cities important and should they be connected by high speed rail to Europe? If they should be, then how?

A. Herein lies a major problem with the new High Speed 2 plan. Suppose you want to travel by rail from Brussels to Birmingham? Eurostar to St. Pancras, High Speed 2 from Euston to Birmingham. Say what? You lop a few minutes off a rail timetable and expect people to walk or tube from St. Pancras to Euston? That’s a crock. Why not, just as a suggestion, consider trains that originate in Birmingham or further north which stop in London before continuing on to Lille/Paris/Brussels? Hardly a rocket science suggestion. Britain is London-centric but this does not benefit a majority of the population in any way, even if Londoners can’t see it!

Q. Can Britain afford to even think about a new rail system when its economy is apparently almost as bad as Greece’s? Why wasn’t something done when the country had the funds available?

A. Britain has a track record of wasting the good years. All that revenue from North Sea oil seems to have disappeared with no evidence of any benefits to the country’s infrastructure. Heck, they don’t even build roads any more! The cost of building High Speed 2 is supposedly 30 billion at around 2 billion a year. It’s going to cost a lot more by the time it’s done but maybe the economy will rebound at some time such that the investment can be afforded in the long run.

After considerable thought I have decided to support and argue for a new high speed system in the UK, built to European loading gauges and capable of taking bi-level trains, etc. Euston should be abandoned as the London terminus of High Speed 2 and a through station should be introduced that would also link High Speed 1 to High Speed 2. The top speed doesn’t need to be 250 mph but should match existing speed limits in Europe so that through trains could run from one system to the other. (The point is that the trains could go at speeds up to 250 mph but there could be speed restrictions where they save money on infrastructure.) Commuters in London and elsewhere (there are commuters in other places besides London!) also need to see improved services and a cost benefit study is needed to see if the existing infrastructure could be expanded in terms of its loading gauge restrictions, allowing bi-level commuter trains to begin operation.

Finally, High Speed 2 doesn’t stop in Birmingham! It needs to serve both Lancashire and Yorkshire as well as the Midland Valley of Scotland. Existing routes should be used for connecting services and freight. The entire investment should be linked to and invested out of road tax and petrol receipts!

Well, my 2 cents, FWIW!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wind Turbines Kill

Birds. Yet many of the leading organizations that supposedly protect our feathered friends are saying little and doing less. Why? Because they are in the pay of those who build wind turbines. Another useful insight by Christopher Booker here.

As a keen birder I find this lack of support from people like the RSPB and Audubon Society, well, sickening.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Science-speak?

I've been busy lately, a lot of traveling, rarely in one place for very long. But here is an excellent John Cleese video on how us scientists are probably perceived by most laymen (or it is laypersons?)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

iPad "future shock"

My initial comments on the iPad have been supported by this informative blog entry, reproduced in MacWorld. The author notes how computers in general frighten people who are otherwise in control of their lives. The iPad could change that.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My 2 cents on the iPad

The techie gurus who have decided they don't like the iPad, announced yesterday, are missing the point.

It's not for them! It's for the rest of us, and they simply cannot understand such a notion. It's going to be wildly successful with the far greater majority of future users simply because they are not, and don't want to be, techie gurus!