Monday, 31 July 2017

Fair Isle

Friðarey the earliest record name in old Norse might mean Fair Isle or possibly the Far (distant from Trondheim) Isle or even Sheep (of which there are many) Isle. It is located on the UK Shipping forecast which you can catch updated several times daily on the BBC. Fair Isle Westerly 5 to 7 backing southerly or southwesterly 3 or 4. Moderate or rough becoming slight or moderate. Occasional drizzle until later. Moderate or good. This is weather for those whose lives depend on it rather than those debating about whether they should bring the laundry in. The terse, business-like tones skip the signifiers Wind; Sea State; Weather; Visibility as a) redundant b) obvious to all the people who matter:<warning don't watch if you tend to sea-sickness> those in peril on the sea. Okay, that doesn't help very much with the Where? Fair Isle is situated almost exactly midway between Shetland and Orkney, the major archipelagos off the North coast of Scotland. The scale is such that to show the location of Fair Isle the island is perforce reduced to a mere dot. But that's not fair; the Earth itself is a small blue dot from some viewpoints. Here she blows on a scale [1 blue square = 1 sq.km] to show where all the 50 inhabitants live:
This is a map you can play your mind over. It is like the maps of islands I used to draw after I learned how to read the symbols on Ordnance Survey maps aged 11ish: coves and cliffs; moors and mudflats; church-with-a-spire; deciduous woodland. I could have it all because I was drawing it all . . . like a god; or at least St Isidore of Seville patron saint of cartographers (and a lot more).  Contact with the outside world is by ferry to North Haven - you can see the dotted line heading NE to Shetland.

I'm here because it was always my intention to include Fair Isle in the Island Index, but more immediately because I'm reading a new-to-me, and rather wonderful, nature book The Running Sky: a bird-watching life by Tom Dee [reviewed]. Lucky you, it's become a 0.01c book on Amazon. It's quite like The Worm Forgives the Plough or The Old Ways or Sightlines all of which I've gotten enthusiastic about. Tom Dee has made it easy for himself by having 12 chapters to his Life and calling each after a month: a life in a year of birding.  I must say that I was a bit off-put by the subtitle because I've never had the patience to be a bird-watcher not least because of the pejorative synonym 'twitcher' which encapsulates all the obsession and futility of maintaining an ornithological check-list.  This despite a rather respectful trib to Phoebe Snetsinger and the fact that two of my best friends are driven by the ould birds. The Running Sky is a book of poetry masquerading as tales of the outdoors; I guess it's an acquired taste but I'm really enjoying it.

Tom Dee's September is Fair Isle; which is inaccessible, yes, but is also a cross-roads and haven for migratory birds. So twitchers make their way in large numbers to its shores. The flu$h and time-poor go by plane, the indigent board the Good Shepherd (the current boat is the IVth instar of the ferry) for a 3 hour crossing. Fair Isle may by fair but it achieves that by being fair in comparison to the heaving sea that surrounds it. The first time Tim Dee made the trip he lost his lunch within minutes of leaving harbour; the second time, forewarned, he skipped lunch and had a yet more wretched time dry-heaving bile. Getting to this ornithological heaven is a very protestant pilgrimage - all hardship and discomfort. Fair Isle works its magic in its place names and also in the birds, for some of which this is the only place in Europe to catch them: ring-ouzel Turdus torquatus; redwing Turdus iliatus; not to be confused with a redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus; willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus; yellow-browed warbler Phylloscopus inornatus almost certainly lost; lanceolate warbler Locustella lanceolata; bluethroat Luscinia svecica.

In April this year the NHS was advertising to fill the post of nurse-practitioner. It would have required a rather special person to fill the post: a great love of puffins Fratercula arctica, sheep Ovis aries storms or crofters would have been an asset.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Help-self

This is a sort of complement to my trib to Samuel Smiles. The Beloved and I spent last week+ in Bath creating and adventuring with the Grandchilder.  Eee it were luvly! After a final trip with the Gkids to The Great Dell the Botanic Garden, and the playground in Royal Victoria Park, we headed off for the 0245hrs ferry. The playground was slammed with small-small children. One of the positive benefits of the ubiquitous smartphone is that children are now left more to their own devices on the slides and swings as The Mammy minds her Friendface on her own device.  The Great Dell aka the Orc Forest / The Last Battleground / Mohican Parkour was, for the entire 30 minutes we spent there, empty but for ourselves and GdauI's infinite imagination. Getting an illicit [it's the sugar it wires them up] smartie-chip cookie into the Gkids fed them far less of what matters than running and ducking in among the mighty trees of The Dell. If you make it up as you go along, then you own the day and its memory.

Leaving Bath at lunchtime was designed to give us two hours in Gardd Fotaneg Genedlaethol Cymru at Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire. But those two hours were frustratingly eaten up by stop-go-stop-go 'Motorway' driving between the Bristol and beyond Swansea and when we got to the turn-off it was 10 minutes to closing. We had planned to dine in the pretty village of Pembroke but the two hotels were full-booked and the chipper ceased trading (at 8pm!) as we approached the door. That left dining in Pembroke Dock, a much sadder and emptier village,  as the available option. We could have sat into an empty Indian restaurant that ominously wasn't even taking in any take-away trade but that was super-sad and not without its risk, perceived or real, of a dose of Campylobacter. We cruised up and down the limited grid of streets and found a loud, bright and cheery pizzeria Pizza Time on Meyrick Street [R pic] run by genuine Italians.  It was friendly and hot'n'wholesome and we sat in out of the Welsh drizzle on an overstuffed white sofa [my sort of place, indeed] to eat pepperoni pizza and veggie calzone. Yum! recommended.  Even with this consumption of time and calories we got to the ferry dock with about 5 hours in hand, which is ridiculous but got us pole position in the waiting area.

Being there first got us loaded right up against the bow doors and we headed up to the Club Lounge [L with complementary banana and tea and nobody to eat it] on [very top!] Deck 11 to get ourselves horizontal for  what was left of the night. We had intended to lash out cash for a cabin, because we're not students anymore, but when we booked there was no cabins available. I thought Club Lounge [at £18 a head! for 4 hours occupancy] meant Pullman seats, quiet and dark, but it rather meant "complementary" hot and cold drinks and snack food . . . and possibly a lower density of people to fight for horizontal space.  You have to eat a helluva lot of mini-croissants and micro-cupcakes to get £18 of 'value'.  There was a rather shameful run at the 'free' food counter by other passengers as they arrived most of which got cleaned away uneaten tsk!  But at least we could get a 'free' coffee as we approached Rosslare to set us up for the short run home.

When the girls were small was coincident with my travelling days as a Eurocrat and itinerant teacher. These trips inevitably meant a night and breakfast in a continental hotel and I used to bring home dinky little pots of jam for m'daughters. It was the only time they were going to get peach jam and there is something timeless about setting out a doll's tea-set with real jam. I'd also carry away the shampoo and shower-cap if they were nicely parcelled up.  On the ferry, this weekend,I should have known better but I lifted two little servings of honey in plastic tubs . . . old habits die hard.  While we were in Bath, Dau.II had treated herself and The Bloke to a two night mini-break in Belfast. She's making a habit of these jaunts, having 'done' Killarney last year. Last night we were comparing notes by Skype and she said she was about to scoop the complementary shower gel into her bag when she realised that The bloke was laughing at her. "Why would I want to acquire a micro-bottle of dodgy shampoo from Belfast when I have a large bottle of shampoo that suits my hair back home in Cork?"  Nevertheless, she brought away 2x shower-caps and 2x shampoo as ironic gifts for Dau.I and BFF, whom she was meeting in Dublin on the way home. On our way home, because we were literally the first car off the ferry, we pulled into the yard exactly 50 minutes after disembarkation. Win!

Final piece of paranoid-advice from Quora: "Never use a hotel kettle. Some really lazy, drunk people put them at the side of the bed if they need to pee during the night but can’t be bothered to get out of bed." There, that's ruined your day or at least your next stay at the Sherhilton.

Sunday snippets 300717

Very miscellaneous


Saturday, 29 July 2017

Twin births

A few of us were talking to Pat the Salt last weekend about growing up in Cardiff before WWII. He ran away to sea at the age of 14 in 1939 which was perhaps an unfortunate time to join the merchant marine. It's different for teenage boys of course because they are immortal super-heroes and getting torpedoed in the middle of the night was rather an adventure. aNNyway, Pat was born at home in Longcross St, Adamsdown, Cardiff and he volunteered the information that he weighed 11 lb = 5kg at birth. That is a truly frightening lump for a vaginal midwife-assisted delivery but he's been telling the story for decades and I have no reason to doubt that is what came down through family lore. The other folks in the room turned to/on me with  "You're a twin, how much did you weigh?"

Well our family lore is that my poor mother looked and felt like a beached whale and was taken for a long and bumpy drive by the midwife across the fields on the top of the white cliffs of Dover [cue Vera Lynn]. That didn't help much and my sister and I went to full term. I was 7.5 lb / 3400g and The Sister was 5.5 lb / 2500g. Family lore goes on to report that the smaller sib was born without hair or fingernails with the implication that I had committed placental robbery. It didn't do me much good because, for all the years that mattered when we were growing up, my sister was smarter, kinder and calmer than me.  The question hanging in Pat's kitchen was whether in sex-discordant twins the boy child is always larger and it was up to me to find out if their was any data on the subject.

Well it's really difficulty to find an scientific study that says that androgens act to preferentially corner the available nutrients in the male twin. So I conclude that there is no such effect. A 1990 study found such an effect, but the sample size was really small, the significance of the trend was marginal [p = 0.04] and only manifest in the cases where the male child was delivered first (like me). Another very small sample suggests that discordant M/F twins seem to pack on the weight more than concordant twins but note that the error bars on these numbers is about half a kilo so that swamps out the idea that these trends are significant:
Birthweight
MF
MM
FF
F
2100
-
1800
M
2150
2000
-
This makes me feel double guilty because I cannot, like Buster Gonad, blame my unfeasibly large testicles on the weight differential back in one hospital in Dover in 1954. There is a sense nevertheless that androgens produced by the male twin do leak across the placenta to affect the growth and development of the female twin.

It's different in cattle because the placenta in Bos taurus has a different structure to that found in primates like us. In cattle, the chorions of twins usually merge and there is a much greater exchange of fluids between the two fetuses. The effect of male hormones on the female calf is much more dramatic and such heifers are called freemartins and are usually effectively infertile. The bull-calf tends to have small testicles and this may also have an effect on fertility. The rate of twinning [1/200 pregnancies] in cattle is much less than in sheep, for example and only half of those twin-pregs will be M/F. Although all sorts of wild and wonderful births have been observed in humans, freemartins are extremely rare because the chorions of the human placenta are generally not shared. The exception being in some monozygotic (identical) twins who will be the same sex anyway.

One of the minor burdens of having a twin sister is being asked if we are identical.  Usually it is enough to adopt a quizzical / ironic expression and point with both index fingers at my groin.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Foodiee evolution

In 1974, I was sharing a flat – on Lansdowne Road about 50m from the gate to the IRFU Rugby Football ground – with three accountants and ‘walking out’ with The Beloved. She was living six-to-a-room under the thumb of La Sainte Union LSU nuns. She decided that it would please her mightily to cook for her man and went into the little grocery round the corner from Lansdowne Road to canvas for suggestions. The grocer and his wife said that young chaps were partial to fries and sold her 1 egg, 3 rashers, two sausages and a small loaf of bread. She came up to the flat and cooked these up for me. As I was then living predominantly on cheese and chocolate biscuits, this was considerably more healthy that I was used to getting. Salads did exist back then but quinoa, balsamic vinegar and red lettuce were a long way in the future. And there were supermarkets but even there the choice was severely limited – two sorts of cheese only = red and white cheddar.

Five years later, when I first went to America, my eyes were on stalks to find that a whole aisle of the football-pitch sized store was devoted to pet food: there was more product choice there than in the entire inventory of a typical ‘super’market back home in Dublin. And 20 brands of coffee, 100 varieties of cheese, 200 sorts of ice-cream.  We’ve more or less caught up with Yankee-dog consumerism now. And we’re a long long way from being able to buy a single egg and two sausages in any shop.

We’re over in England this week and so get a different view of shopping in, say, Morrisons.co.uk than in, say, Supervalu.ie all of which tends to emphasise that food is riotously more expensive in Ireland. For one example, Strong White Flour SWF is €1.85/1.5kg bag in Ireland but only £0.95 = €1.08 WTF?! = 67% more in Ireland than England. The English arrangement of aisles exposed innocent me to new products which showed how easy it is getting to part the consumer from their money by ‘adding value’. A repellent orange discus shrink-wrapped in plastic is labelled “Spanish tortilla” and sold at £2 = €2.25 /450g. That is at least 50% potato which retails in the next aisle at £0.50/kg: that's a lot of added value. How difficult can it be to cook a tortilla from scratch?? Then there are aisle-labelsindicating where to locate:
  • lunchbox drinks
  • snacking cheese 
  • breaktime biscuits
  • multipack crisps
  • multipack snacks
  • sharing snacks
which indicate further disempowerment of people in their quest to ‘Eat food, mostly veg, not too much’.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

You are wot you eat

Back at the turn of the 21stC I found myself polishing the cutting edge of science. For a chunk of the 1990s I had the office next door to Ken Wolfe, now FRS, who is almost always the smartest bloke in the room; certainly when I am the only other person there. His contributions to science are many [pubcrawler] and varied [human genome and a Nature paper] and go back to his first Nature paper which predated his PhD. In 2000 Science Foundation Ireland SFI was set up with a brief (and a ton of money) to kick-start Irish scientific research. They solicited applications for grants of several millions of IR£s [soon to become €1.27] in biotech and infotech. Ken secured one of five SFI biotech grants to investigate the human and other genomes which were coming on stream. For reasons that I still find hard to fathom I was given a seat in the new lab along with some super-smart young researchers about half Irish and half foreign. I think I was a net contributor but I had an uneasy sense of Imposter Syndrome [it's not only women] for the 3 years I worked there.

Just as I was preparing to leave (retiring again!) Nora Khaldi a new PhD candidate arrived from Provence. She was young and fit and an asset to the nation of geeks with whom she was going to work. The Celtic Tiger was only starting to growl and the SFI salaries were generous [had to be to attract brilliant minds to an intellectual backwater on the edge of Europe]. Someone decided that all work (and we all worked really hard) and no play made dullards of genius and instituted a series of cultural events for the lab. We were each requested-and-required to book something and everyone else agreed to row in with the suggestion. I brought everyone off the see [subtitles! love 'em] a Belgian film Le Roi Danse about Louis XIV and his favorite composer Jean-Baptiste de Lully. I may also claim credit for suggesting The Burial at Thebes Seamus Heaney's brilliant version of Antigone at the Abbey Theatre. I admit that sounds consciously and pretentiously highbrow but The Lads loyally came out for those events. Nora au contraire decided that the best fun was to pile everyone into a Zodiac inflatable boat and roar off at 30 knots in a tooth-crunching cruise to nowhere round Dublin Bay. I for one left a puddle behind on my thwart which wasn't only from the spray. During her PhD Nora knocked off a bunch of seminal papers about genomic evolution in filamentous fungi which have garnered about 1,000 citations which is definitely above average.

After TCD, Nora went to America - everyone who wants credibility in science has to Go America for a spell - and worked at NCSU on mycotoxins. She developed a pipeline SMURF to analyse fungal genomes for their capabilities in producing secondary metabolites. Secondary metabolites are the bits and piece of biochemistry that don't have direct use in energy metabolism and reproduction.  They are often useful in minimising competition and/or deterring predation. Fungal secondary metabolites have, for example, given us the majority of the current available battery of of antibiotics. In due course, Nora returned to The Other University UCD and in short order dreamed up a company Nutritas which mobilised her computational biology skills and her appreciation that genomes produce a rich array of proteins and peptides whose function is not always obvious.

If oral antibiotics can survive the maelstrom of acid destruction that is the human stomach and go onwards, downwards and then around-and-aroundwards to cure a Staph infection in a child's ear, then what about other microbial products? As CSO [Chief Scientic Officer] Nora [L.L] is talking up the benefits of the Nutritas pipeline of discovering new bio-active peptides. Although she is the founder and the brains behind it, they have hired a Chairman from MegaCorp Novartis to steer the good ship Nutritas through the choppy waters of an unforgiving financial world [I bitterly use a nautical metaphor because of the Zodiac ordeal to which I subjected in 2004]. The nascent company had already appointed a CEO [L.R] from MegaCorp Pfizer in 2015 That's a common strategy in tech startups: you may be a mathematical genius and a dab hand at Python but chances are you will do something dopey like forget to add employer's PRSI contribution when you estimate the burn-rate of your wage-bill.  You start to talk about burn-rate when you secure your first €3.2m tranche of Venture Capital.

 Nutritas has pipelines in anti-inflammatories [diabetes, heart-disease] and anti-microbials [pathogens] which will finish up as targetted additives in your breakfast smoothie. Here she is again, a) talking up the company but b) for the last tuthree minutes talking up solidarity among women in tech. As a metaphor she points out the women are expected to wear different shoes for every meeting where her male CEO just wears shoes. Going foodiceutical is a canny choice; the development pipeline for novel food products is much shorter, cheaper and less challenged by required FDA trials than the development of new drugs. And the market is calling for novel ways to make people well or better still prevent them from getting sick in the first place. In January this year, Nora Khaldi won  the Woman of the Decade in Business and Leadership award. You need bottle to persevere against a tide of know-it-all nay-sayers. “I was told this was impossible and I decided not to listen" attagurl Nora!  Feckin' Bri'nt!  You can talk like that with Nora because she now talks just like a Dub. You'd think she's been raised entirely on bacon-and-cabbage rather than Salade niçoise and bouillabaisse. There we go again: another bloke laying his truc on an entrepreneur and visionary just because she's a woman. But I'd do exactly the same to my pal Cedric Notredame, another escapee from Le Midi, if he was able to speak Dublinese half as well. He can't: all he can do is imitate a genuine Dub [Des Higgins] imitating a Frenchman [Cedric]: very funny but you have to be there. Because I only have two pair of shoes [one for work and one for funerals], I don't have a leg to stand on in footwear politics.
But enough of blokes, in science or otherwise:
here's a lot more Women in Science

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

There and back again

The Hobbit or there and back again is the title of a road trip by the eponymous hobbit and a LOT of dwarfs called Boing, Going and Doing, Bash and Clash, Winky, Tinky, Ditsy, Lala and Poo . . . I forget the details. I seem to remember they came back with a lot of treasure; maybe they found a lotto ticket along the way? Yesterday The Beloved and I went on a similar epic journey to the top of Solsbury Hill with a team of short people; Gdau.I aka Hawkeye; Gdau.I's pal Daisy aka Dog-girl; Gdau.II aka The Ballast; The Blob aka Pathfinder Worm-eater; the Beloved aka Freeman Jim.  I'm not sure how I got demoted from the wily and dependable navigator to some sort of mole. The main thing I got from the journey was a sheep tick Ixodes ricinus [prev] which Hawkeye was canny enough to spot before it got embedded in my arm and thus could be easily pinched off.

Solsbury Hill is 600m due North and about 140m higher than where the Gdaus live, so we thought we were quite heroic to make it to the top with an enormous hamper of food, drinks, parasols and picnic rugs. Our sense of epic achievement deflated pffffffff quite a bit when a dozen preschoolers topped the summit with their trainers / minders / teachers. Turned out that the parasol - which I had thought was a wildly extravagant, and not very Scott-of-the-Antarctic, indulgence - was a handy melanoma-preventer because when we emerged from the scrubby trees the Sun was broiling. Almost exactly 40 years ago Peter Gabriel had a life-changing experience while climbing Solsbury Hill and wrote a song about it. He heard an eagle; we just heard a very angry sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus casting up and down the hedgerow as we walked down towards civilisation. Well I (crap at ornithology) thought it was a sparrowhawk. Gdau.I (beginner ornithologist) stoutly maintains it was golden, and so more likely a kestrel Falco tinnunculus.

The previous day, Gdau.I and I had gone for another walk to her school through the fields [ref: To School Through the Fields: An Irish Country Childhood by Alice Taylor is available for 0.01c]. England is covered in a network of Public Footpaths access to which is zealously defended by ramblers and dog-walkers. These folks maintain that, since time immemorial, the plain people of England have had The Right to walk across other people's land to get to church or to work or to take the dog, or the grand-daughter,  for a walk.  And a very edible walk we had too. Along a mere 1500 m [and back again] through woods and along field edges we found: early black-berries Rubus spp.; fat filberts / cobs / hazel-nuts Corylus avellana not yet ripe; small juicy yellow plums Prunus domestica; several varieties of apple Malum pumila and blackthorn Prunus spinosa bushes covered in sloes. Of course, the sloes aren't going to be ready to eat [or more likely add to a bottle of cheap gin] until they have been bletted by the first frost. Throw in some young dandelion Taraxacum leaves and unopened leaf buds from hawthorn Crategus monogyna and you can breakfast heartily, including greens, on the way to school. Children are no longer generally allowed to walk to school by themselves anymore in case they get scooped up and eaten by a marauding band of orcs. Which is a shame really. And it doesn't have to be like that - even in cities.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Pixellation

We're hanging out in Bath formerly Aquae Sulis. You want to be careful of getting run-over by culture in Olde Worlde towns like Bath - or struck by the selfie-sticks of a bus-load of Japanese tourists following the guide with the red-and-white umbrella aloft. The waters are something else in the line of sulphur and give pause to ever complaining about residual chlorine in the tap water: try a glass if you're in town; it's a unique experience. We walked into town between heavy rain-showers on Saturday morning to catch some museums with the Gdaus. The Victoria Art Gallery VAG is one of the nicest and least pretentious late 19thC civic museums in the whole world. Minor art works, by artists of whom you've heard, cover the walls and the oak floor-boards creak as you walk reverentially through the galleries. I have a good friend who raised two children in the Museum of Fine Arts MFA in Boston when there was no entry fee and you could take the kids in for 20 minutes or whatever period for which they had patience. The VAG is like that for Gdau.I: increasingly familiar and friendly and a quiet haven from the beeps and crashes of devices.

We caught the first few hours of a Summer show called Here Be Dragons which is a gallery full of original artwork dragons from kid's cartoon books. That's nice, especially if you are up-to-date with the latest dragons which are trending in children's literature. I may be over-empathising with my 6-year-old self but I can't imagine many children having the patience to look at loads of pictures of dragons without looking for a bench on which to sack-out-exhausted. I reckon you-the-adult have to give the weans some structure. Me, I'd concentrate on the evolution of dragons, some of which are far more credible than others. All the descriptions suggest that they are some sort of reptile and all land-dwelling vertebrates are tetrapods. Even if, as adults they have lost some of those four limbs. Thus for me dragons with four legs AND a pair of wings are a) unlikely and b) almost certainly descended from a common ancestor. If you were hot-housing your kid to be Director of The Museum of Comparative Zoology in Harvard, you could help them design a check-list of attributes and use these data to construct a phylogenetic tree of relationships among Gruffalo, Smaug, and Haku.

Another brilliant idea was to mobilise a day's worth of kids and their Dads in the Lego Dragon community art-push. Anyone younger than me is familiar with Lego: I was part of the first generation of Lego-builders when the little plastic bricks came to  the UK in 1960ish. There were red bricks and white bricks. The Lego Dragon project was create a paint-by-numbers, highly pixellated, picture of a dragon out of buckets of 1x1 lego bricks in 32 different colours. The whole picture was broken up into 16x16 blocks which were distributed to punters along with a map of that section specifying which colour went where. Your task should you choose to accept it was to fill a base-tile with the coloured bricks according to this recipe and turn that in to Dragon Central.  Each completed tile was then stuck in the appropriate on the wall. There wasn't room for a third pair of hands tricking about with minute Lego-bricks so I set myself the task of of picking up, colour-sorting and returning to base bricks from the floor and abandonned on tables round the room.
The Boy and Gdau.I went at a rather boring (mostly black and dark blue) infrastructural square [L indicated by maker]. At least she stuck to her last like a good cobbler. The room was mostly populated with isolated fathers doggedly finishing up while their sons ran noisily around the room like . . . well, boys. The whole picture consisted of 16 x 12 of the 16x16 blocks or 256 x 196 = 50,000 pixels, You just need a couple of hundred people to contribute 25 minutes of their time et voila dragon!
Well it turns out that making Lego-mosaic pictures is A Thing.  Like all Lego stuff it is expensive.
Verdict: good idea, please copy for 
other art-work; not necessarily dragons.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Snow White inside

I'd like to think that one of the running themes in The Blob is that there is no such thing as little utility in black and white thinking. Der Reichskanzler was kind to children; there is some value to a belief in god; not everything the other side says is utter nonsense. On Sean Moncrieff's Newstalk FM radio program, he noted that the twitter-storm went on for 36 hours after they had a piece on the unborn (both sides going at it hammer and tongs) while a feature on homelessness among Irish 'born children' elicited only 5 comments.  But those issues are metaphorical black and white, although quite edgy. When it comes to actual black and white animals, the firm ground on allocation and definition is hard to find.

An old logic puzzle hinges on the fact that all swans are large white long-necked ducks [family Anatidae] which allows us to assert that any a) large b) white c) long-necked d) duck is a swan and failure at any of the enumerated criteria makes the thing you're considering a non-swan . . . until you go to Australia and encounter Cygnus atratus [R]. Naseem Taleb wrote The Black Swan as an investigation of certainty and our failure to correctly process information from outlier events - "unknown unknowns" like 9/11 and the inexplicable Harry Potterism of Google - to help us deal with the future. Taleb's book has plums in it but there is also a lot of duff to chew through [critical Guardian Review] and Taleb himself can sound simultaneously know-it-all and woolly, which doesn't help illuminate the plums. Black and White animals? Should make Blobbistas think pandas [no not those pandas] or rhinos or ice-floes and polar bears.

Bears, you say? Well I was reading about the unfortunate irony that the bear on the California State Flag [L] is extinct; less than 75 years after the Gold rush of 1848, the last grizzly bear Ursus arctos californicus in California was shot and killed in Tulare County in 1922.  Note that the California Grizzly is a subspecies of the Brown Bear Ursus arctos which, as a species,

 is a long way from being extinct but the key conservation-biology question remains: whom should we save if we are to retain the greatest possible genetic and ecological variation. Because variation is the stuff of evolution and we know not when a Black Swan event will put the survival of the species at risk. But when that event occurs, genetic variability is the best hedge against an uncertain future. We now have molecular tools to gather the genetic data to help conservationists make these hard decisions - El Blobbo has covered such studies for: fairy penguinsrhinos - giraffes - elephants - wildebeest - Tasmanian devils - whales.

We need that molecular data because brown bears are bigger than a bread-box and quite variable as to size and colour and so there has been a tendency to pronounce that specimens deserve their own sub-species because of a trivial difference in size, or habitat or feeding or colour.  This is partly due to ambition - getting to name a [sub-]species ensures your immortal fame while acknowledging your specimen as essentially-the-same-as is much less exciting. WWF has to hope that taxonomic lumpers eventually win over splitters: it's cheaper that way, because then they don't need to save two morphs.  You want to be a bit careful on defining things by skin/fur colour: a rat, black as my hat, ran across our yard the other day but I knew it couldn't be Rattus rattus, the black or ship [plague] rat, but rather a melanic form of Rattus norvegicus which has been so successfully invasive on the Shiants, the Scillies and Ile Bouvet.

Mais revenons nous a nos ours. There is the Black Bear Ursus americanus, for example, which is a good, reproductively isolated from Ursus arctos, species. The last common ancestor lived 5 mya, about the same separation as between us Homo sapiens and chimps Pan troglodytes according to molecular clocks. And there are melanic forms of the 'brown' bear just like there are blondies, red-heads [prev], dark-brown and sandy-coats. Grizzly refers to the grey de-pigmented tips to the hair shaft which give a distinguished pepper-and-salt look. At the other end of the spectrum is the polar bear Ursus maritimus which are definitely white but not so definitely a good species! It turns out that one of the 90 named subspecies of brown bears Ursus arctos sitkensis is endemic to the ABC islands in the Alaskan panhandle. ABC for  Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof Islands, the largest northerly lumps of the Alexander Archipelago from which the city of Sitka faces out across the broad Pacific Ocean.  When they looked at the DNA of these beasts it turns out that they have distinctly polar-bear chunks of their genome.  It is now suggested that a population of polar bears was stranded by retreating ice on the ABC islands at the end of the last ice age. In absence of available male polar bears, some females acceded to the attentions of roving brown bears from the mainland and delivered healthy offspring. We know it was that way round because the ABC brown bear (a single individual, as far as I can make out) is most polar-like (6.5%) on the X chromosome than in the rest of the genome (1%).  Those healthy offspring grew up and started to look for potential mates in their turn and found only brown bears and so the polar-bear contribution has been stochastically diluted over the last 10,000 years. It's a bit like, if you send your saliva off to 23andme, they will analyse the DNA and tell you that  at least one of your ancestors had a romantic interlude with a Neanderthal. There will be no detectable difference on the heaviness of your brow-ridge but the DNA will bear a distinctive other-species signature. The algorithm can quantify the amount of miscegenation.

So there's hope for polar bears as the ice caps shrink and their habitat gets destroyed and they have to swim further than the cubs feel comfortable about. They have been there before and survived for some time in a brown-field site. Good news for seals?






Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sun Misc 230717

A tuthree of longforms
  • How doctors die . . . with No Code medallions /tattoos conspicuously visible when they turn up in the emergency room, so they won't have their ribs cracked by CPR.
  • How journalists get scooped via Mefi. They get scooped like scientists do - heck, they invented the term
  • All you'll ever need to know about irrigation.
  • Vox on UBI uconditional/universal basic income. Articulate folk from Left and Right are advocating UBI so that it becomes a Rorschach test, a canvas onto which people of various bents can project their hopes and dreams . . . and unevidenced prejudice about who the poor are and how they get that way.
Shorter stuff



Saturday, 22 July 2017

We're primates

No No, only some of us are Archbishops but we are all great apes (rather than fallen angels).  I can say that safely because almost all my current readers (according to the Blogspot statistics) are French, or at least have French IP addresses, and only a minority are Merkins. I'd be quite confident that the latter are from the minority Evolutionista party rather than from the man-is-built-from-Eve's-rib-Genesis majority.  But there's no future in he-said-she-said on our ape ancestry, we need evidence. For me a compelling datum is the remarkable similarity between the genomes of humans, chimps and gorillas.  But other scientists have their baggage in a different toolkit and a group from St Andrew's U in Scotland is following up the commonality of non-verbal communication among the great apes. There is a strong tradition in such ventures for starters see Chuck Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals [prev].

We're in England{spending time with | minding | bonding with} Gdau.I who uses words to achieve her aims "Dado said we're allowed to watch Peppa Pig for the whole of Saturday morning" and Gdau.II who is pre-verbal.  Her older sister claims that she knows purple and yellow but that is more responding correctly to "Say yellow" rather than "what colour is elemental sulphur?" or "what dye-colour can you abstract from Murex gastropods?". There is a hypothesis that this verbal deficit is physiological and larynx-developmental rather than cognitive. Same argument has been applied to Koko and Washoe and other languaging great apes. If you make the assumption that a pre-verbal child knows nothing you can make communication frustratingly difficult. Like the does he take sugar? syndrome when dealing with Stephen Hawking and other physically handicapped adults.  Well, help is at hand [literally] if you're prepared to embrace Sing & Sign and learn a reduced instruction set with your toddler [see R]. You're not going to discuss meaning in the works of Wittgenstein but at least you'll be able avoid pissing off the child so it throws a tantrum when the grandparents [very high standards there] are visiting.

On the journey across country from the ferry we tuned into BBC Radio 4 and caught a piece on the Great Ape Dictionary. Cue joke:
Two apes in the bath.
One goes "Ah ah ah ooo ooo ach ACH ACH"
There other says "If the water's too hot, mate, you can run some cold in"

The Boy can run that joke in French from his time surfing in Biarritz.  The French Connexion is actually important because that link invites you to participate in a test to see if humans can correctly [multiple choice] interpret ape gestures captured on video. If the only responders are graduate students from Scotland there will be bias. Mostly they'll be thinking "that gorilla really needs a pint o' heavy".  Because the language of gesture is not universal among humans. If you try la barbe in Ireland, folk will think you're making the universal sign of choking and wrap you in a Heimlich embrace.  Well I've helped push the frontiers of science by participating in the St. Andrew's Experiment . . .  and I haven't done as well as Jane Goodall! Indeed I suspect that, if I had to hang out in the Gombe Reserve with some chimpanzees and asked one  of them for a share of termites I'll get soundly rogered by the alpha male. Nevertheless, I scored 12/20 which (with 4 choices in the MCQ = 5/20 ) is much better than random!

The one chimp gesture that I felt most confident about was when an infant chimp raised its arms in the hope that someone would pick her up . . . because I had, minutes before, acceded to a similar demand from Gdau.II. It's like those reflexes - Babinski [prev], Moro, etc. - which small-small human infants have but which fade as they grow up. I don't know enough about the field of non-verbal comms to know if they have Trevor Lloyd arguments about whether the gestures are random with cultural accretion of meaning or if they are more deeply embedded in the genome of behaviour. aNNyway: you are encouraged to help the St.Andrew's Experiment.

Mappy links

I recently asserted that I love maps, 'tis true and here are the links to prove it.
Scandinanvian triple-point land-deal;
Indiana standard time in flux
Hilarious twinning of Ukrainian Oblasts with Irish Counties
Ditto Belarus and Ulster
PrairyErth
Oola Oval
Baarle
I thought it would be time to cull some more from the interweb:
And now for something completely diff: documentaries about Art

Friday, 21 July 2017

Urban development

It seems you can never have enough houses. But that seems to be partly because houses are more than shelter nowadays, they are assets. Indeed families in the st will elect to be in debt for their whole working lives in order to acquire their 'own' home.  This can be seen most clearly by selecting Ps from the Pocket World in Figures 2015: Average number of people per household: Portugal 2.5; Poland 2.6; Peru 3.9: Philippines 4.6; Pakistan 6.8. For comparison Ireland and France have 2.3 people in each home. Everyone shouts that there is no future in small family farms and each generation the potential farmers flee to the bright lights of the city where, for most of them the conditions are a mixed blessing. Pat the Salt was born on Longcross St, Cardiff in 1925 . . . in a home on Longcross Street, silly. Shortly thereafter, his mother, restlessly trying to do better for her family, shifted the menage over the back-garden wall to System St. That short journey can be found on Google Maps complete with street-view pictures of both homes:
I've known Pat for more than 40 years and for many of those, I misheard that he had lived on Cistern Street which I thought was a rather brutally appropriate name for an urban stew. "Now then, bailiff, flush those Irish chappies out, we want the houses for the Barbadians". System Street is a peculiar enough name, I guess, until you see the context. The surrounding area includes Comet, Constellation, Eclipse, Orbit, Planet, Star, and Sun Streets. Further East we have a block of Copper, Gold, Iron, Lead, Silver, Tin and Zinc Streets and then Diamond, Emerald, Pearl, Ruby, Sapphire, and Topaz Streets. These streets were laid out in the 1860-1880s from the Bute estate and other developers. I think the names show a nice, and rather unpretentious, sense of imagination.  All these streets and more are in the suburb of Adamsdown which 200 years ago was farming country [like N Dublin was 20 years ago], albeit a short walk East beyond the walls of Cardiff City and Castle. Cardiff Castle and many of those farms were the property of the 2nd Marquess of Bute, a mighty Victorian landholder with estates all over South Wales and Scotland.

I can look that sort of stuff up because I paid €9.99 for Kevin Cahill's Who Owns Britain [available on Amazon upwards from £35] which investigates a window in 1872 when all the estates in the United Kingdom were enumerated in The Return of Owners of Land in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales a four volume, 2000 page Domesday Book. For ordinary folk living on , say, System Street, the Land Registry holds, since 1925, records of who owns the property next door. But the Land Registry only records transactions and  many of the Great Estates are now wrapped up in Trusts with life-time beneficiaries, so the ownership of much of the country is not a matter of public record. In 1872, the 3rd Marquess owned 117.000 acres but because of Cardiff and its docks and the South Wales coal-fields he was the 8th richest landowner in the country but only 33rd in terms of area.

The 3rd Marquess had to thank his dad the 2nd Marquess for not resting on his huntin' and shootin' estates but hunting around for ways to improve the value of his property: notably, as I mention above, improving Cardiff Docks to facilitate the export of iron and notably Welsh steam coal and high quality anthracite from the Rhondda Valley.  The iron industry developed in South Wales because of the ready availability of coal locally but both developed through the vision of The 2nd Marquess. It was a close run thing because those massive development projects required enormous amounts of capital and the Marquess borrowed heavily to see his projects through and that took many years. The homes of Adamsdown were developed to house the workers, a great many of them Irish, who were hired to build and work the docks and other infrastructural works. The Welsh had the mining itself sewn up.

2nd-Bute was a stoic of the old school and much admired by Neil Todd my boss from graduate school who was also well 'ard a stoic of the old school. He spent many hours at home and in the field researching Welsh tavern tokens locate the place of origin of these coin-like entities. In 1985, we spent a wonderful short week wandering up and down the Rhondda Fawr [you can sing it] - Treherbert (the rail head) - Treorchy (the choir) - Ystrad - Tonypandy - Treslaw - looking for pubs [R Brains is the local brew] and cats. It was our last field-trip together. According to Neil (I can find no trace of this on Google) the 2nd Marquess lived by the following motto:
I have no god
I feel not Winter
I heed not Summer
I fear not death
You wouldn't call that a very sunny view of life, but it is one I can live by too.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

London streets hold their value

I'm a bit of a Wikipedia groupie - not a total slave - but I get triggered for a certain amount of blob-copy by reading Did you know . . . and On this day . . . at 0600hrs in case I miss the birthday of some famous female scientist. Intriguingly List of London Monopoly locations includes thumbnails of each location and the current price of property there, taken from an article in The Independent. In 1936 the locations were chosen by Victor Watson, managing director of Waddington's, and his secretary Marjorie Phillips, on a day trip to The Smoke from head office in Leeds. Apparently they had lunch at a Lyons Corner House, that used to be a famous local pub, in Islington which event was commemorated in one of the cheaper properties on the board The Angel Islington. The conceit of the Independent article is to compare the pre-WWII prices with the astronomical amounts that are required to buy (or rent) your own gaff in the British capital. Notwithstanding the difficulties I have to get to a cultural event or a really good riot in London, I think our humble farm is better value. I've no idea what our 7 ha. and ruined sheds are worth but let us conservatively put it at half the cost of a 2 bedroom semi in the ropiest part of monopoly land Whitechapel Road where the average house price is £590,000. With the £300,000 I 'save' by living remote I could fly to Dublin - London day-trip [11 August 2017 = £60] every day for the next ten years.

But of course with a great string of data, I had to plot current prices (which vary from £590,000 to more than £3 million) to those unreal 1936 values (£60 - £400):
I'm assuming that they were unreal only in the sense that the absolute value. In 1926, the price of a new home was (UK average) ~£600, in 2016 it was ~£300,000 up 500-fold [source]. That's a pretty crap source because they claim "In comparison, a pint of milk cost the equivalent of 1.3p in 1926 and is only 42p today. If it had risen in line with property prices it would cost £612.57." Which is plainly bonkers [1.3p * 500 = £6] because they don't know the difference between pounds and pennies. The BBC claims a 1930s 3-bed house as £350.  aNNyway, it looks like the price of housing in London has been a rising tide that floats all boats rather than some sort of exponential function in which Mayfair got disproportionately more exclusive than the Old Kent Road. And I've high-lighted the outliers above and below the trend-line: Bond Street is going down in the world while Marlborough Street is on the up-and-up. And of course parts of Kensington recently went up in smoke. Here's Jonathan Pie [warning may make you cross all over again] deconstructing the politics of discrepant wealth. Here's a wordier but no less angry deconstruction of London housing policy which contrasts empty investments of /for mega-rich foreigners with dispossessed, but still British, citizens living in hostels at the foot of these condominiums. Whose bright idea was that and. more importantly, cui bono??

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Science Book Swap

Science Book Swap SBS is an original idea whose time has clearly not come . . . yet. Every month for the last two and a half years on the third Tuesday, Science Café goes down in a pub The Sky and The Ground, South Main Street, Wexford. Born from a gap in 'the market', Science Café is a bit like a book club, or a quilting bee, where people who have something in common embrace a structure to meet more often. The people who rock up to Sci Caf Wex SCW each month are all interested in science and live near Wexford and feel they don't talk science often enough . . . or didn't until Science Café came along. We have N=~30 students, technologists, teachers, foresters, entrepreneurs, farmers, brewers and a pharmacist on the books but the average turn out is a handful. What we do is pick a topic and a presenter and use that as a launch-pad for a couple of hours of networking [at least one of us has gotten a job out of it] and talking in-and-around science.  It's mighty, good for my morale, and I always learn something new.  But it's often difficult to find a volunteer, fired up about some tech-topic, to be ringleader for the evening. For my sins, I am the list-manager and secretary and probably, by default and bystander effect, find myself gabbing about My Baggage more than I should. With The Blob and all, it's prolly easier for me to dredge up some copy than the other members of the Café.

July is the midst of the Silly Season, when folk are on vacation, or mowing the lawn, or taking the kids to soccer, at 8pm on a Tuesday. But I had a Brilliant Idea for a Sci Caff Concept.  It was born from an unconscious memory of Ignite Talks which were all the rage a few years ago in venues like Dublin's Science Gallery [prev]. The conceit there is "a whole conference in an evening" where speakers are strictly limited to 5 minutes and 20 slides to present their ideas. Here's one on Lafcadio Hearn Irish / Greek / American / Japanese story-teller. They're great: you can get a taster-teaser quicker than it takes you to look something up in Wikipedia. Here's another on The Future of Food by Nora Khaldi . . . so you see: super-diverse.  You could get sniffy about Ignite being a product of the attention-deficit sound-byte generation but that's where we live now and it's better than watching commercials on the TV. You'll see commonality with the Pint of Science concept.

I was casting about for something to do for July's Science Café [no volunteers having beaten down the secretary's door to present their stuff] and my eye fell on my most recently read book RRB Chasing Venus by Andrea Wulf, from which I filleted a blob about Mason and Dixon. I picked that book up while shopping with my book-buying daughter [peer pressure] last month. Because it was recently acquired I have no particular attachment to the book and am actively de-cluttering my life so SBS was born. Everyone was requested-and-required to turn up to SCW with a science book, which they would talk up for three (3!) minutes to promote its many virtues and then swap it for a different, but similarly promoted, science book and everyone would go home happy. I cast it as a cross between Ignite, book-crossing and speed-dating. I was well excited and hoped to off-load Venus and acquire [temporarily! I'm not building a library again] some new Summer reading.

Well, among Wexford Cafistas, I'm the only person who seems to be stoked by this idea because when I bounced into The Sky and the Ground yesterday evening I found I doubled the audience and Mike had to leave early to wear his thespian hat. Furthermore Mike hadn't read the announcement and so he had no book to swap.  And so, my friends, I offer up the SBS concept and hope it may fall on more fertile ground in Nantes or Montpellier.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Throw it away - it's old

My late lamented mother-in-law grew up on the edge of the Sahara without a fridge or sell-by dates . . . and survived. One of her more inspiring traits was to take responsibility for the food that came into and went out of her kitchen. She used her nose and eyes to decide what was and was not fit for food and safe to eat. She'd use cream, for example, that was days over its sell-by (especially if it had been unopened in the fridge) because she had a life-time of experience under the regulations of the catering trade and cooking under very adverse circumstances. Parsimonious me has tried to follow her in using food up: what can't be served raw will go down well cooked. That's why, after all, spices were imported from The East - keep calm, curry it up and carry on.  The problem for the younger generation, who have been babied by safe-food regulations all their lives, is that the treat sell-by dates as proscriptive rather than advisory.  In May, I made some perfectly safe cattle cake from ingredients that had expired 2 years previously.   You can, of course, see where the Food Safety FSAI [prev] is coming from, especially w.r.t. food for sale, but it galls me to see people condemning nutritious food in a world where so many children are starving.  And yes, there are issues with over-production in the EU and over-buying among EU families. If folk had less money they might be less wasteful; in the same way that we, you and me both, would drink from the toilet-bowl rather than die of thirst.

It's not only food. The Market also over-produces printed matter and writings become obsolete. My eclectic collection of 3,000 books have almost all been acquired second-hand or remaindered.  The core of the collection was acquired by haunting yard-sales in suburban Boston the early 1980s so my library is a little off-balance or quirky: the 1930s being better covered than the 1990s. A Romanian dictionary is not going to 'go off' any more than a collection of stories by W.W. Jacobs. None of us will have the time to read all the books published this year in English, ou même en français, to decide which suit our temperament - so we might just as well read randomly and be occasionally surprised and delighted by unexpected books.

Now I make no bones about the fact that I love maps and I'll admit that a few too many of the books I bought for 25c in Boston were atlases. One World Atlas from 1939 is interesting to give a view on Europe before the Iron Curtain but I shouldn't have bought three at various times. After a while, maps and atlases have diminished utility. My street map of Dublin 2000 AD shows an agricultural void where Dau.I's current digs are surrounded by 300 homes and a shopping precinct. The Celtic Tiger promoted the building of a motorway network that, in some cases, makes the old National Routes obsolete by-ways. aNNyway, I was passing through New Ross last weekend to do some research in SW Co Wexford and decided I needed to purchase sheet 76 of the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Discovery Series.

In the 3rd shop I tried the lady had to get a stool and rummage on a high shelf to find a bundle of the distinctive blue maps. I'll spare you a picture of New Ross and go further up river to St Mullins [R aerial pic and OSI map]. She shuffled through the stack looking for Sheet 76 - which might well have been sold out because New Ross is centred thereon. But with a harmonious "Aha!" we found two copies halfway down the pile. Win! because I'd got what I was looking for but also because I'd rather support a small local shop than buy the map from a megacorp garage on the road out of town. I gamely but facetiously suggested that she might cut me a discount because the map was 'old' but she trumped that to say I could have it for free because, as far as the shop was concerned, it was just clutter because a) they felt unable to sell an obsolete map b) the wholesaler would not take unsold maps back and c) nobody uses maps anymore because they all have GPS in the cars.  Even after I asked, with rhetorical flourish, if The Hook peninsula was still there? and pointed out that no new motorways had appeared on the map, the shop-keeper was determined that the maps were beyond sell-by.
If they were really clutter, I asked, could I have some of the other maps? 
Take them all,  she replied.
I can't do that, I said, but I'll take one copy of each different sheet you have.
And it was, so! I came away with sheets 67, 68, 69, 75, 76, 77, 82, which more or less covers the whole Sunny South East of the country . . . and bizarrely sheet 83 which covers Killarney and MacGillicuddies Reeks in the far West . . . and an irresistable second copy of sheet 68 because our home is in its very centre. Even after slapping an unasked-for €20 on the counter I came away super-delighted. Not since 2002 when I rescued, from the curbside trash, 10 sheets of the old orange 1/2 inch to the mile 1:126,720 series have I made such a cartographic coup. A bargain is when both parties come out of an exchange feeling satisfied. A bargain was struck in New Ross last Saturday.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Copper bottomed

Peak oil? Are we there yet? That seems to be an ever receding gateway the other side of which is hard to contemplate: so much of our lifestyle is predicated on cheap oil. But we've also been rapacious in our looting the planet for minerals that can be smelted to metal to make gizmos to throw in landfill. Gold is the obvious one and I've written about recycling phones to recover that element. But today let's have some passive entertainment about recycling copper Cu because you can make money and save the planet by concentrating metallic copper in ingots which are worth $5.75/kg. Why copper? Because the Copper Coast is a key element in restoring the ragged fortunes of Co. Waterford where I do most of my beach-combing. [

Warning and disclaimer from a comment below a youtubeos I haven't cited here "I can't believe I just wasted 5 minutes of my life to listen to all this babble that ended up being a tutorial on how to hold a utility knife."
  • Trinket Gobblin finds a large differential in the price he can get from raw electrical wire. All those Hannukah/Christmas lights thrun in the trash at Epiphany tsk! the waste.
  • eWaste Ben advises tooling round the neighbourhood taking copper out of CRT TVs - lingo note: No.2 copper is lacquered.
  • Chris from Westsound Recycling explains diff between #1 and #2.  The latter in contaminated with lacquer, solder, aluminium coating, oxidation = patina and is therefore less valuable
  • Bracken Recycling does the maths of whether to strip wire. More lingo: 75% wire is still covered in plastic; BB bare-bright is pure copper. A spool of 75% is worth $12.51. You get a higher price $15.80 for BB by losing some weight. Is it worth $3.29 of your time to process the stuff? Convincing theatre suggests it is NOT worth the hassle. 9 lb of wire is loooooong and each meter of it has to be stripped.
  • Moose-scrapper seems to have a paleolithuc bang-two-rocks-together approach to recovering a copper coil from a transformer. Commenter suggets getting a bigger hammer.
  • eWaste Ben makes handy little 10oz ingots of copper melted from wire from coils in TVs. I gather that he is stock-piling these against Armageddon.
Sorry, readers, today has given you rather more work and less digest but the old tongue-twister is harder still:
"Are you copper-bottoming 'em my man?"
"No, I'm aluminiuming 'em Mum"
Other metal stories on the blob:
Al - Au - Cr - Li - MgSn - Pb -
by implication there's 100 more in pipeline

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday Miscellany 160717

Sunday very miscellaneous
  • Glorious - I mentioned this at the beginning of the week at the end of a tl;dr piece about crumblies so you may have missed it so this is a repeat.
  • Walking on water: The Dock a floating surf-board launch-pad: why has nobody thought of this before?
  • So sorry Scotland - after the larger partner to the Union voted to leave the EU
  • Part 1/26 county songs: Kieran McGilligan sings My Own Leitrim Home. Did he write this, as well as sit the in rocking chair to sing it? Or is the Leitrim Anthem 1b/26 Bonnie "pant-suit" Stewart singing Lovely Leitrim Shore. No better evidence that Leitrim was left behind in the 1970s.
  • Treorchy Male Voice Choir sing
  • Back in June, I flagged Michael 'Moneyball' Lewis's advice to young privileged people to acknowledge their luck and not get too smug about how it was all working out so well for them. I was therefore primed for another commencement address on 3quarksdaily, in which John Roberts the US Chief Justice spoke to golden-spooned 14 year old white-headed boys on leaving Cardigan Mountain School. He counter-intuitively wished them bad luck, betrayal and unfair treatment so that they could reflect more directly on their fortune [see the whole thang here]. That's fine and the whole performance has gone viral.  He finishes he peroration with a quip about being unable to offer the lads any advice about how to cope with women. Elise Hempel checks the Old Boy on this cop out: He could have told that group of soon-to-be men, "You've been at a school with just boys. Most of you will be going to a school with girls. Listen to them. Respect them. Treat them as the equals that they are."  Wot she said!
  • Taking Elise's harrumph on board we'll park Boy's Own and try a Mixed Welsh Choir is truly weird costumes singing Calon Lân 
  • Eeee, I do love a bit of rope especially found >!free!< on the beach
  • Years and years ago, I made a Bodice-ripper calendar for one of The Beloved's sisters. Each month had a 'quote' from that genre of books. One went something like "As newly-wed Morag slipped between the linen sheets, Alastair's braw tartan torso filled the door-frame . . . slowly he unfastened his kilt."  Dau.II sent me graphic satire on such writings. by Cris Shapan

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Kids go the orifice

Short stack to fit the title; need to start kids working earlier because Arbeit macht aufrecht:
And no I'm not recommending sweated labour in the third world. Any more than I've been pro Victorian chimney-sweeps. Doing things with your Dad should be part of growing up or you finish up with college students who've never cracked an egg,