Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Oh dear...

I have been tagged by Mrs. Green and asked to “share 6 interesting things about yourself”, but in describing me the words “interesting” and “yourself” sit uneasily in the same sentence, so will “weird”, “different” or “unusual” do Rae? Here goes then:

1. When I drove race cars, I lost a race at Brands Hatch by touching, with a flailing hand, an oversensitive ignition kill switch in the Lotus I was driving as I exited the final corner. You would be amazed just how fast other race cars can overtake when you have turned the ignition off!

2. I have a talent that few other ministers possess; I can Oxy-acetylene, Arc and MIG weld.

3. Although I hate heights I once did a charity abseil down a multi story office block because I said ‘yes’ to the question “can you help us raise some money?” before I asked ‘how?’ I promise that will not make that mistake again...

4. I have been to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party... Actually my wife was the one that was invited but I accompanied her.

5. We live in a 300+ year old cottage that we bought 20 years ago as an uninhabitable near tumbledown wreck. After I estimated 6 months to ‘do do it up’ I then spent 2 years in doing so! Interestingly I discovered that the lath and plastered over wooden beams were oak ships timbers. So if the cottage is 300 years old, the ship was 50 years old when it was cannibalised and the Oak trees that the beams were cut from were 100 years old then the wood of our beams was growing some 450 years ago in the 1550’s, long before the Pilgrim Fathers were born, let alone reached America, mind you, the ship the beams once were may have...

6.Many years ago when I was ten-pin bowling with friends, I managed to start my run to the line while still raising a heavier than usual bowl to my face. There was painful contact and I knocked a front tooth out

Monday, 24 November 2008

Are you going to buy a new computer for Christmas?

Please play the above before you 'recycle' the old one, it is very important that you do so... thank you.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Do you ever think that what you do can’t last?

When you next see a Space Shuttle on the launch pad have a look at the SRB’s (Solid Rocket Boosters) attached to it. These are made in Utah by Thiokol and the designers may well have liked to make them bigger, but as they had to be moved by train from the factory to the launch site the designers were restricted in their dimensions by the dimensions of the tunnels they had to pass through.

US rail tunnel dimensions are dictated to by the width of the train and this is dependent upon the railroad gauge which is 4’8 ½” inches between rails, about 143.51 centimeter. To say this is an odd figure is an understatement, so why was that dimension used?

Simple, this is because the first railways in the USA were built by British expatriates who brought over their jigs and tools with them. They first used these for the horse drawn wagons, then they used them when they built the railways.

Why did the British use that spacing? Easy to answer! When they started building horse drawn transport in Britain they had to use that 4’8 ½” spacing because to do otherwise would destroy their wheels because they would not match the ruts that were already there in most of the old, already existing roads.

Who or what made those existing ruts in Britain’s old roads? They were made, around 2000 years ago by the Romans.

There then is the answer. Over 2000 years ago someone decided to measure the hindquarters of two horses and decided on the wheel spacing of 4’8 ½” because it was the perfect dimension for a war chariot. So a major design feature of one of the world’s most advanced transportation system, the SRB's on the space shuttle, was in fact determined over 2000 years ago by someone in a stable measuring a horse.

And around 2000 years ago something else occurred in a stable that also determines many lives of today...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

I will drink to that!

As someone that started out in life in engineering and design I am in complete awe of the design talent of God.

Everything is multiple-use and nothing is ever wasted.
For example in our garden we have an Oak tree, it must be 500 years old. In that time has fed itself and the plants around with leaf mould, the local squirrels have fed on its acorns and taken away and buried them for store, forgotten where they were which explains some the younger nearby Oaks. The Oaks fallen limbs have been taken over by fungi and insect life and we are burning some of the thinned branches on our open fire now and so the story goes on, but you get the picture, the tree is not just carbon removing, oxygen enhancing and beautiful, that is just the start.
So why can’t we follow that principle and when we design items have multi use in the design remit?

The beer bottle that you see in the image was envisaged in the early 1960’s by beer brewer Alfred Heineken and designed by Dutch architect John Habraken, the “brick that holds beer” was ahead of its time. The final design came in two sizes - 350 and 500 mm versions that were meant to lay horizontally, interlock and layout in the same manner as ‘brick and mortar’ construction. One production run in 1963 yielded 100,000 bottles some of which were used to build a small shed on Mr. Heineken’s estate in Noordwijk, Netherlands, but the idea never caught on.

The Buddhist monk is standing in the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple in Thailand's Sisaket province. He and his fellows collected around a million normal beer bottles to build the temple he stands in, for more detail see here.

And the final image is from the UK. The walls of this structure are made from orange plastic crates, for more details see here. Wouldn’t the world be a much better happier, safer and cleaner place if, rather throwing things away or using energy to recycle them they had a use just as they were, just the same way as God designs things?

Saturday, 8 November 2008

For some, the penny has finally dropped!

I am a member of our village Parish Council and as such I recently attended an emergency planning conference. Local (Parish) Emergency Plans were started just after WW2 when the concern was a Russian nuclear attack. The parish councillors who were involved in the plan were supplied with a short- wave radio, built up a store of food, and, assuming they survived, had to list where local facilities were for storing and disposing of any victims and looking after the injured living etc. It was then decided to add the concern of disaster (plane crash whatever) to the emergencies list and then, as the usefulness of the Parish Emergency Groups became apparent and the cold war was over, the concern of natural disasters took their place.

Two of the speakers described how their parishes had dealt with major floods, not applicable to the major part of our parish which is a few hundred feet above sea level, and then we had a Met Office (see HERE) scientist to give a talk, the site will also link to weather in other countries as well. She gave for many a new insight into emergency plans when she said that we now had to plan for the safety of our vulnerable when we had Global Warming related extremes of weather, giving, as an example, the European heat-wave of 2003, see HERE for more detail. When this occurred there were around 20,000 heat wave related deaths in Europe including 3,000 in Paris alone where the death rate increased by 142%! These summer temperature events will, we were told, be the norm by 2040, and by 2060 will be considered cool. What she did not touch on was what would happen further south of the UK. In Africa, in South America, in Australia Malaysia, Indonesia, India and so on, what, I thought, would happen to the people there when the temperatures increased?

The good point of her talk was the rapt silence that she was listened to, because for many of my climate change sceptic fellow councillors, the penny, at has last has dropped... it’s for real...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Non-polluting nuclear power???

Sellafield on the coast in the remote and staggeringly beautiful area of Cumbria is the largest industrial complex in the UK. It produces little yet employs 10,000 people and has armed police guarding its perimeter, why? Because it contains the world's biggest stockpile of plutonium and uranium. Sellafield now produces no electricity. Instead it re-processes spent fuel to produce more unwanted plutoniurn and uranium. Some of this could be turned into fuel, but the MOX plant built to do this at a cost of £400 million has produced, in the seven years since it was built, only 7 tonnes of fuel compared with a production target of 840 tonnes.

Much of the nuclear waste comes from other countries that send their spent fuel to Sellafield to be re-processed and sent back home so that Britain would not become "the nuclear dustbin of the world" but guess what, it has stayed at Sellafield, going nowhere.

Sellafield has a safety record that is a total disaster; from 1950 to 1986 alone there were over 250 safety related incidents. In 1957 there was a fire at the plant; the UK Atomic Energy Authority had built two nuclear reactors (or “piles”) on the site of a World War II explosives factory to manufacture the radioactive element plutonium for use in British atom bombs. Radioactive uranium fuel at pile number one caught fire in 1957 and radioactive material was spread over a large area of North West England. At one point eight tons of uranium was burning. Milk from 600 farms in an area of 500 square kilometres was banned from human consumption and an unknown number of people received additional radiation doses in the form of an isotope of iodine. It is a fact that if just 1% of the Plutonium (the most dangerous nuclear material) stored there was released, it would be ten times as devastating as Chernobyl.

MP Nigel Evans raised the case of a family who were in the area that had suffered horrendous health problems but a government enquiry was refused, see here for the details. There were also suspicions that more was know by the authorities than they wanted to admit about radioactive contamination when it was discovered that workers body parts had been removed at autopsies for testing, see here.

In the words of Dr Simon Taylor University of Cambridge. “The name having acquired controversial and menacing associations, Windscale was re-named in 1981 back to its original name of Sellafield”

The Irish Government and the Northern Irish assembly were understandably irate when it was found the ‘low-level’ waste was being discharged into the Irish Sea and the Irish Sea is now thought to be one of the most radioactive in the world and some beaches in the immediate area are still closed off. What also concerns me is that the waste at the plant will be unsafe for a quarter of a million years. The next time that someone talks about non-polluting nuclear energy, ignore them, because the same sort of incidents have taken place all over the world at nuclear facilities. There is however another way to pollution free power...

The main picture is Sellafield and the other of the Romney Marsh Wind farm on the South Coast of England. It is next to the now defunct Dungeness Nuclear Power Station and you can see more photos of them, the Nuclear Facility and the story of the area here.

Sunday, 2 November 2008