My arms ache. I have been painting my hall, the woodwork with a brush and the walls with a roller. Years ago I plastered a wall and I couldn’t believe how anyone with arm muscles any smaller than Popeye’s could do such work professionally. Today I saw these guys, and felt humbled. These are full-length scaffold planks being lowered down the face of a building in Edinburgh’s George Street this lunchtime by sons of Popeye. The speed at which they lowered them was awesome.
Monthly Archives: January 2011
Lowering them, not walking them
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Two of the Whitmuir Free Range chickens will make history this Friday as the first farm animals to be allowed into the Scottish Parliament building. They will be attending the Scottish Eco-schools Conference. No doubt Lily will wonder where they have gone (I mentioned some time ago that she attempted to round up several piglets. She also has a go at the chickens occasionally, but rounding them up isn’t easy because she can’t fly).
The event is, appropriately, being held in the Members’ Restaurant.
*It’s who they would vote for
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No child seat?
If you think biofuels are green…
This is not another dig at BP, I wouldn’t do that to you.
You may know this already. In the UK we now have 5% ethanol added to our petrol (when I did school chemistry it was known as Ethyl Alcohol). This percentage is soon to increase to 10%.
On the face of it this seems a good idea. Anything to wean the world off fossil fuels has to be taken seriously. What isn’t widely known is that ethanol is hygroscopic, it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere and as a result it corrodes steel containers. Ethanol also disolves fibreglass fuel tanks and there are many of these still around. The longer this petrol is stored in steel tanks, particularly if there is air space above the fuel, the more moisture it will absorb and the more corrosive it becomes. Older vehicles are already suffering from corrosion of the metals used in their carburettors and their fuel pumps. Many older fuel tanks (including a tank on one of my bikes) have been given an internal anti-corrosion coating. And guess what? This coating dissolves in ethanol to produce a foul glue that clogs up everything in sight (I should have said out of sight, because it’s all hidden away in the fuel system). Ethanol also rots rubber seals. Don’t think that it is only owners of classic cars and bikes who are affected by this. There are hundreds of thousands of older petrol engines out there, on generators, mowers, cultivators, boats, water pumps, and in farm and contractor’s machinery. All are in danger of damage by today’s petrol.
All of these problems seem trivial compared to the damage this obsession with ‘green’ fuels is doing elsewhere. Land previously used for food crops is now being used to produce biofuels (for diesel as well as petrol). We cannot afford to use our arable land to produce this stuff. The amount of grain required to produce enough ethanol to fill the fuel tank of a large car could feed one person for a year. Indonesia thinks it has the answer to this, and to get more land for biofuel crops it is felling an area of rainforest the size of 300 football pitches every HOUR. See here.
For an excellent and detailed information sheet on the problems (and some solutions) surrounding the use of biofuels in older engines see here. For more on the global problems we are making for ourselves by growing biofuel crops, simply google ‘deforestation diesel’.
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A website I visit regularly has printed the location of that famous ‘Two Ronnies’ fork handle sketch.
It is here.
I now have gas! Only half a tankful, but if that means twice as many people who ran out of gas can have half a tank rather than a full tank then that has to be a good thing. Many food and materials delivery problems are the result of this ‘just in time’ thing, where retailers, contractors and suppliers of almost everything no longer hold stocks themselves but rely on delivery companies getting the goods to them on a day-to-day basis, which presumably works well when the roads are clear. Before BP Gas fitted a telemetry system to my tank I would get a top-up whenever a tanker was in the area. Also, if my gauge showed about 30%, I would call them and ask for a top-up.
Now they wait for a radio signal telling them my tank level is low (less than 20%, I believe) and they come and fill it up. But because there are no casual top-ups, and because levels have been allowed to drop much lower than they would have done before, there is far less gas out there in customer’s tanks than there used to be. So, guess what happens when there is snow and the tankers can’t deliver?
All this stuff is called logistics. It used to be called deliveries. There is more about logistics here.
Birth of Britain
I have just watched a Channel 4 Documentary, ‘Birth of Britain’, presented by Tony Robinson of ‘Time Team’ and ‘Blackadder’ fame. To me he makes a passable and often entertaining presenter of archaeological programmes because he surrounds himself with professionals who put him right when he strays from good science. But archaeology is a far cry from geology, as this programme shows. He was aided at the start by a couple of geologists, a quiet one from Edinburgh who stood with him on Salisbury Crags (while he referred to the whole rock mass as Arthur’s Seat) and a very loud one indeed from Cardiff who walked him up a ‘mountain’ in Wales (it wasn’t Snowdon, so which mountain was this?) and shouted geology at him. Robinson was just about passable when he was narrating, presumably from a script, but when extemporising on hillsides he was often at a loss to find the appropriate terminology to describe geological processes. As a result we had the occasional baffling remark such as ‘…imagine that (volcano) richocheting across the Welsh countryside…’.
You have to be very, very good to explain something you don’t really understand. Ideally you shouldn’t even attempt it. ‘Birth’ has the odd random professional helper (including two Roman Centurion re-enactors on Hadrian’s Wall… why are they always Centurions?) but none of them helped to hold the programme – or the geology – together. Birth of Britain is the dumbing-down of science at its worse. You would think, after watching this, that the whole of Britain consists of volcanic rock (some of the graphics are good, though).
Perhaps ‘Birth of Britain’ will get better. For me, the bit I have seen already is dead in the water, and as a programme that attempts to explain the geology of Britain it should sink without trace. Presumably Robinson wouldn’t (I hope) dream of attempting to present a programme on astronomy, physics or chemistry, so why choose geology? It is a complex subject that requires a geologically qualified presenter. If you want to see it done properly, watch ‘Men of Rock’, presented by Iain Stewart. This is how it should be done.
‘Men of Rock’ clips (and some of the programmes – for the next few days at least) are here.
I read recently in the METRO that a 48 year old man is the first person to ski down an iceberg (that’s not him in the picture, I’m just showing a photograph of something vaguely related, like some newspapers do).
Apparently Andrew McLean performed this world-shattering feat ‘wearing only a life-preservation suit for his protection‘ Why does that amuse me rather than impress me? I’m sure I would have been more impressed if he had done it wearing only a string vest.
Isn’t it rather like saying ‘he entered the stock-car race driving only a Challenger tank‘? or ‘he sky-dived with only seventeen parachutes‘?
Out of Gas*
On Thursday 13th I had an apology from BPGas:
‘I am very disappointed that you have run out of gas and I can assure you that I am investigating ways in which we can improve our service to you to ensure we avoid causing any further distress during the winter period… we will ensure that you are added to our priority list and this would generally mean an order will be with you in the next 3 working days’.
I was given the web address of a page where I can check on deliveries, so I’ve done that each day. It is very informative:
We’re sorry, but your delivery of gas is not scheduled for 13/01/2011
We’re sorry, but your delivery of gas is not scheduled for 14/01/2011
We’re sorry, but your delivery of gas is not scheduled for 15/01/2011
Perhaps Saturday isn’t a working day, which is odd, because you would hope that they would be working every day of the week at the moment to keep their customers happy. So, perhaps Monday…?
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Costly Bridge Work?
The next time you cross Edinburgh’s Waverley Bridge you might want to do it on tiptoe. If any of my motorbikes were as rusty as this they would fail their MOT. How has it been allowed to get this bad? It looks to me as if some of the steel at road-deck level has been eaten right through. Surely I’m not the only person who’s noticed it?
Click on the picture for a bigger (scarier) image.