Wednesday 31 October 2018

Kite flying

We were down in Waterford over the Hallowe'en weekend with four generations present from the venerable 93 y.o Pat the Salt to three of his Great-grandchildren, incl. Gdau.I and Gdau.II. After an afternoon visiting while I stayed home to chop wood, carry water and tap out Blobs, the Gdaus returned, each with a plastic kite. The other had badged his mother to get him a kite, and she had announced that they would make one two three.  There are a number of places where you can find instructions and all you need is a sheet of plastic, some sticks, some string, and some scotch tape. Apparently, two of the kites had been airborne for longer than 3.5 seconds. That means that they were in the air for longer than Wilbur Wright on 14th December 1903, which therefore qualifies the kites as flyers.

Much later in the day, I dropped by Pat's to say goodbye to The Girl Who Invented Herself before she returned to Singapore. The kite-creative mother was there and I asked her how she made the decisions about proportions in her kite factory. She said that the instructions had been flexible:
  • the sticks could made from skewers taped together
  • the horizontal strut needed to be nearer the top of the vertical than halfway up
  • the stabilising ribbon needed to be about 6x the length of the vertical strut.
  • any plastic would do - she had bought a plastic table cloth
Apparently, the test-kite had flown but not too good: in a more-or-less uncontrollable clockwise spin. That is surely due to some asymmetry in the design: with more lift on the left-side of the kite. This is what brought me crashing to earth while paragliding. Small asymmetries in the lift can be damped by the stabilising tail-ribbon and some instructions advocate adding a steel washer to enhance this effect. Obviously, adding a brick to the end of the ribbon would counteract the lift entirely - on both sides: successful engineering is about compromise among competing requirements to achieve an optimal solution. Actually, in engineering as in evolution the optimum [best possible] isn't required; good enough will do. We discussed how the young chap could learn from that first attempt and make his mother incorporate design changes in Mark.II. 
  • using a tail that was only 3x as long as the kite but 2x wider
  • adding that washer
  • using longer sticks, not skewers, to even up the weigh
  • moving the cross-piece nearer the top . . . or nearer the midline
  • using more robust plastic - like a sheep-muesli feed sack and applying for sponsorship from Red Mills.
  • finding a lighter line to fly the kite from
Wilbur Wright came crashing to earth after his 3.5 seconds and it took him and his brother Orville 3 days to repair and modify their flying machine for their second attempt.  It takes a special sort of mind set to go for kite Mark.II, Mark.III . . . Mark.XXIX. Most of us flit off to the next bright thing or slump back exhausted on the sofa and switch on the TV for some slack-mouthed passive entertainment.

In teaching F&F microbiology or any lab-based classes, I frankly don't give-a-damn about the content; on my watch it's all about perfecting the process. In particular it's about testing the allowable variation that will have a good-enough outcome. Marjoram? - I think that's the French for butter. Happened two weeks ago in class: student-pair was tasked to make 500ml of VRB agar. Instructions on the bottle specified 28g/litre. This should mean adding 14g/500ml. Student-pair had been sleep-weighing and added 24g/500ml and asked what to do. This happens A Lot at The Institute because we baby the students: just follow the manual and don't take ownership of the science. Three options presented:
  • pour it down the sink and start again 
    • waste of €1 worth of ingredients
  • do some nifty calculations and dilute the over-egged agar to the required concentration
    • making more agar and pouring more plates [each costing 5c]
    • making more agar and throwing the surplus away
  • just using what they had made and seeing what happened
    • these 'strong' plates would be less wobbly
    • less time wasted piffling about over detail-schmetails
We went with the least troubling 3rd option. You have to be suspicious: why 28g ? Rather than 30g?  I'll bet a €5 note that it's because the original recipe used by microbiologists in the 19thC specified adding an ounce of powder, or even a generous spoonful to the mix. Over the years this allowable flexibility has become codifed and regulated and captured in SOPs [standard operating procedure] so they are idiot-proof. Idiots will find only 27g left in the bottle and decide they'll have to order another batch before they can carry out the experiment. STEMistas worthy of the name will use the 27g, maybe adding a jot less water and pouring 19 plates rather than 20.


Word-a-day had a week of words related to the eye, one of which was ullage where the eye-connexion was less obvious than the others: prosopopeia; ullage, trompe l’oeil; ocellus; red-eye.

Ullage n. the amount by which a vessel is not brim-full. From the Old French verb ullier to fill a partially empty flask; from the old N French oel a bung-hole from the Latin ocellus.

Some nice comments: From Stan Brown at Dartmouth "Our father, a physics professor and amateur winemaker, lobbied to have the new guest room addition to our house dubbed The Ullage, as in “the space into which extra is poured

Did you know that you leave a small airspace in the top of wine bottles from the same reason you leave a gap between consecutive railway rails and slabs of concrete in roadways. In all cases the coefficient of linear expansion specific to the material will cause more or less expansion as the temperature increases. You don't want corks to pop, rail-lines to buckle or concrete to crack because the expanding material has nowhere to go. The amount of ullage - in neck, mid-shoulder etc. - gives clues about the amount of time your plonk has been in the bottle and/or how well the contents have been stored.

Ullage is a down-side in melting and sterilising agar in an autoclave. IF you make the beginner's error of shutting tight the lid of your pyrex bottle of agar ANDIF you open that bottle still hot from the autoclave THEN the pressurized air gap will explosively decompress and shower the surroundings - lab-coat [phew!], neck, face, safety-glasses [phew!], ceiling - with thick sticky molten agar at about 100oC. I was reminded of our last such incident yesterday because I was giving another lesson in correct autoclave usage to another of our supposedly autoclave-competent final year project students. I was able to show her the ceiling splatter. Such accidents are easily avoided by cracking open the lid of the agar flask prior to heating.

Ullage is important in shipping bulk liquids like oil. Crude oil is super viscous and is typically heated to facilitate discharge. Heating will increase the volume, so you need to leave a space at the top of each tank so that the crew don't slop oil onto the decks and, worse, into the sea. You want to leave the minimum ullage consonant with safety because a) you want to max the load per voyage b) free surface effects of slopping liquids at sea have a disconcerting habit of sinking ships like the Herald of Free Enterprise. Soundings / gaugings are taken twice a day when bulk carriers are at sea. You need to know asap if there is any change in levels. It could mean loss of cargo with financial and polluter-pays consequences OR it could mean water ingress with days in a life-boat consequences. The language is curious:

  • Outage = ullage is the distance between liquid surface and top of tank or an equivalent reference point.
  • Innage = sounding = dip is the distance between the bottom of the tank and the liquid surface
  • Closed gauging system allows soundings without opening the tank itself - obviously undesirable if the cargo is liquid propane gas LPG or similar.
  • List or Heel correction is required unless the ship is perfectly level (ie always).

Related to ullage is the "Angel's Share" in whiskey production; this is the loss of fluid, mainly alcohol, through the fabric of the oaken casks in which whiskey matures for so many years. It can amount to, a non-trivial, 2% by volume each year! Diageo, the megadistiller, apparently wraps their wooden barrels in cling-film to minimise the loss to Angels - and make their products taste sweaty??

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Profitable Publishing

The Profits in Publishing vimeo which I cited on Sunday 21Oct18 and mentioned on the next Tuesday is an hour long investigation of commercial scientific publishing by Elsevier, the biggest of the Big Five publishers of academic journals. The others being Wiley; Springer Nature; Taylor Francis; and Sage. There is a longish tail beyond that of ever smaller ventures trying to make an honest living of out very short print runs. There  isn't a huge potential readership for highly specialised journals filled with dense papers on obscure topics. The Journal of Raptor Research; Journal of Chromatography & Separation Techniques; The Journal of Linguistic Geography aren't going to sell like Harry Potter, but each requires a secretary; part of an office; some stamps and a computer. Those costs have to be laid off across a narrow list of subscribers; therefore the cost to each seems hefty. Nevertheless these journals and the people who work for them have standards; they want to publish quality information based on evidence.

The quality is assured by the process of peer review. Each submitted paper is carefully read by two or three experts in the field who will only allow it to be published if it achieves a minimal level of coherence, clarity and, well, correctness. These publishers therefore need to be differentiated from 'predatory publishers' who will print any ould shite so long as the authors pay a few hundred dollars. Some papers in these bottom-feeders may contain good science but they haven't been critically reviewed. Now that everything is digital, the overheads are modest and lots of entrepreneurs from, say, Bangalore, with a cousin in, say, Buffalo NY to check the PO box will set up in business with a spam-shot to e-mailing list lifted or purchased. Last year I shared some of these nonsense solicitations.

The income from For Profit Publishing is chunky by any standards. 50% of the subscription costs to UK university libraries was devoured by the Big Five. In fine, Elsevier garnered £42,000,000 followed by Wiley at £19,000,000. The publishers divide and conquer by insisting on negotiating with each Librarian [like U.Michigan's L] separately under a non-disclosure agreement. They also bundle their products in such a way that it seems advantageous to take out subs to rather more journals than you strictly need - a bit like cable TV.

Elsevier is said to operate on a 30-40% profit margin, not least because all their intellectual effectives - the editorial boards and the peer-reviewers - work pro bono for the good of their narrow community. Being on the Editorial Board is a feather in the cap of those seeking promotion or a new job in a different university. They say that it should take a day and a half to adequately review another person's submitted manuscript. It's more than checking for typos and ensuring that all the citations in the text are referenced in the bibliography . . . and all the references are cited. Referees should: check the calculations and statistics; make sure the graphs are labelled sensibly; see that the columns of the tables add to the row and column totals; know if the substantive results are novel; insist that their own papers are acknowledged. This is why editors send manuscripts out to 2-3 referees: one is bound to say it all looks okay having spent 25 minutes scanning through it.

The current editor of Proceedings of the Royal Society, the world's oldest still running scientific publication, explained that the purpose of scientific publication is four-fold:
  1. To maintain an archive of findings
  2. To register who did what and who has priority
  3. To disseminate scientific finds so that we all know what has been established and by whom
  4. Finally, verification of findings or publication of contrary data is vital for the mission.
The problem with the current capitalist [L Creative Commons is another CC way forward] is business model is <surprise, surprise> that the richer and well endowed countries / institutions get access to the cutting edge science. The poor otoh get left in ignorance or, at best, months behind their fellows in hOxford, Heidelberg and Harvard. Brian Nosek arch-priest of crap-detection, whom we've met before, was astounded to find so many people working in his field on the science of implicit cognition in Belgrade. The main driver turned out to be street-light science: much of the literature on implic.cog. was available free-to-reader with subscription. Other fields of psychological research were locked inaccessibly behind paywalls.

The Privilege of Patriarchy is paramount. The three most prestigious medical journals are The Lancet; JAMA [Jo Am Med Assoc] and NEJM [New England Jo Med]. Tallied reveal that 40% of the authors in NEJM live within 150km of the NEJM office in Boston. They probably play golf together and make dynastic marriages among their offspring too. The prestige of a pub or two in NEJM ensures continued access to the grants that fund the research, the NEJM referees also work pro bono for the NIH to allocate money to the best and most interesting research. That's just an example, the in-group of any paywalled journal operates in similarly incestuous ways and sincerely believes that they are completely objective in their judgement.

They could be a little less smug and little more self-critical. They might learn how it is that Indian surgeons can with high efficiency success carry out surgical procedures at 10% of the costs charged by Stanford. Publishers soak the well-endowed institutions. Harvard has something like $35 billion invested which generates an income of $1.7 billion a year to lubricate the running of the University. That's about 30x more than the journal subscription bill for ALL the universities in the UK. The endowment gives the top Universities an edge which hinges at least in part from access to all the published literature. The endowed are terrified of losing access / advantage and so are putty-soft across the haggle-table from the rapacious sales-force of The Big Five.

But there are bright pinko-lefty eruptions here and there: some researchers have banded together and fought their way to the promised land of Open Access. Three years years ago next week, after a long process of trust building and establishing common interest, led by the editors Marta Dynel from U.Łódź and Johan Rooryck, U.Leiden, the entire board of Lingua, the preferred journal for linguistic research, resigned in protest against owner Elsevier's access policy. The rebels immediately launched a new journal Glossa, more in keeping with their business ethical views. Elsevier considered these do-goodniks financially naive; but they would, wouldn't they? Here's an interesting graphic showing the distribution of costs at Ubiquity Press the publishers of Glossa.
Watch the Profiterole Publishing vimeo; it's the horse's mouth.

Monday 29 October 2018


For several happy years in the 1980s, I'd spend most Tuesday evenings in the basement of the University library learning the ancient craft of book-binding. It was immensely satisfying because I made readable some ratty books that I had bought [cheap, at yard-sales] for their content rather than for their striking good looks. After many weeks, I was able to produce reliably a functional 'library-binding' that held all the pages together and allowed the book to open. I liked very much the revelation that all the materials and steps in the process were important for the engineering of the book. Rounding the spine with a gurt big hammer, for example,ensures the book stands on its tail.Even the gold-leaf, which could be a mad extravagance, is used because it is durable when applied to leather. You need to know what book is on the shelf so a title is handy.
Many ancillary crafts are important for feeding book-binders with their materials. Here's Chris Rowlatt from Gloucesterrshirre marbling paper. You mileage may vary, but I can't stop a sharp intake of breath when he brings a gorgeous sheet off the marbling bath. Irish carrageen moss from Galway Bay is an essential ingredient of the marbling water. I love the random-but-not-chaotic nature of the product. As he says, marbling could be an end in itself but Rowlatt prefers to take-the-bell-through and use his papers for endpapers and covers of books which be binds in his atelier. The language is suitably archaic and specific for an ancient craft: head, tail and forage [fore-edge]; forwarding; nipping press; rounding and backing; sewing frame; mull; kettle-stitch. Kettle is from Old German Kettel = small chain: same root as catenary.
Did someone mention books? You know my latest obsession is putting pixellated bookshelves under the microscope. Here's one created by Dau.I the Librarian:
All those books are the scripts for plays. There is a certain amount of good-natured competition among the librarians to create a "display table" - which is up for a month - that results in more books being borrowed. No surprise that 'murder mysteries' outstrips 'scripts for plays'. I am predictably delighted by the random, anything-goes aspects of this task. Maybe Dau.I could take a leaf out of Elizabeth Sagan's Arty book-obsession:

Sunday 28 October 2018

B is for Sunday

B b b badass:

Saturday 27 October 2018

Most people own a TV

We've never owned a television. Yes yes we know what they are! When I visit Pat the Salt I occasionally switch his TV on to see what happens. Answer is: not a lot in the evening; better in daytime with Antiques Roadshow and Pointless. Periodically, we get an official letter from An Post, the licencing authority, more or less accusing us of harbouring a fugitive television and once in 22 years an inspector has visited when we weren't at home. I hope s/he had a good poke around and peered in the windows to see if we had a television about the premises.  The traffic below shows that this wing of officialdom is not without a sense of humour.

From: Bob, 12 October 2011 13:33,
To: TV Licence
A chara,
The famous half-Chinese emigre Ho F Scientist, who, according to your records, is living at 03096443460 Co Carlow, resolved many years ago NEVER to own a television.  Accordingly there is not, nor ever has been, a television in our home. Each year we spend the 160 euros thus saved on books, which we read to each other in the evenings when we are not playing charades or knitting.

No answer. No manners!

From: Bob, 02 October 2014 19:57
To: TV Licence

Nothing Gay Byrne can say will persuade us that a TV is worth having. I would rather watch our front-loading washing machine - at least we choose what to put in that handy appliance.  Since you last contacted us three years ago we have completed seventeen sweaters for our friends and relations. Your inspector is welcome come visit; would s/he like a woolly hat?
pp Ho F Scientist

From: TV Licence 02 October 2014 19:57
To: Bob
Thank you for your email. We have now updated our records. Please feel free to send me a woolly hat to the address below (anything but pink).
Kind Regards,
Barra de Cnoc
Tv Licence Records Office, The Quay, Waterford

From: Bob, 19 October 2018 18:27
To: TV Licence
Dear old Barra and Co,
I can assure you that we don't have and never have had a TV in the house.  We did rent one for a year when we lived in England in the 1980s but the rays emanating from that instrument required me to wear a tin-foil hat or suffer from constant headaches. Is there anything good on the TV nowadays? I might be persuaded to spend the €160 as my fading eye-sight makes reading difficult. Then again, I do have my knitting. You didn't acknowledge receipt of the woolly hat in the Déise colours; was that a bad choice? Black & Amber?
Best wishes,
Bob "Headgear" Scientist

Friday 26 October 2018

IrfanView is the dog's bollix

"Now let me get this straight; bollocks is bad, but the dog's bollocks is good, eh?" [2m35s: 51st State]

Well finally I coughed up! and paid €10 to software engineer Irfan Škiljan for the use of his wonderful Freeware image-tweaker IrfanView [L for its squashed cat logo] I guess I use IrfanView almost every day; because I post a Blob every day and I try to leaven the blocks of text with a picture or two. As an early adopter of the internet (sent my first trans-Atlantic e-mail in Oct 1983), I wrote one of Ireland's first webpages in late 1994 - WWW was released for free in April 1993 and rapidly replaced Gopher, which is just a word to anyone under the age of 50. I've also used an acoustic coupler to connect to work from home maxxing at 300 bit/s or 100,000x slower than the broadband you city folks use to watch nonsense on Youtube. Those conditions set my clock for wasteful and heedless consumption of bandwidth. People who append a 1Mb corporate logo to the end of their e-mails; people who send 4.5Mb holiday or kids-R-cute snaps; these are driving the demand for broadband and causing the internet and its obese servers to consume more than 10% of the Earth's electricity.

Not me, I care about the planet and, while recognising the readability value of a few pictures, I do my best to reduce their size to the minimum commensurate with legibility. Indeed, I recognise that some of my fuzzy and pixellated graphics are barely fit for purpose except as solutions to break up the text.  IrfanView has, for at least the last 15 years, been my GoTo for reducing .jpg .png and .gif files to a smaller size, so that my readers in Aden, Bombay and Caracas don't have to wait 10 minutes for the download. I can't find it now but Chris "IT Crowd" O'Dowd has a funny sketch about getting porn in the 1990s: you'd set your computer downloading at night and the next morning a picture from scalp to clavicle had appeared on screen, you had to wait another 12 hours to see the joggly bits.
With Blogger-blogspot I can't easily place images where I want them, so I often use IrfanView's 'create panorama image' function to clag several pictures into one graphic. Outside The Blob, I use IrfanView to turn a picture upside down to insert in my MS-Word birthday-card template [see above for recent example]. Printed A4 that folds into a A6 size card with the picture on the front and greeting inside. Six or ten homemade bday cards a year saves me shelling out €10-€20 to Hallmark. And, as you see above, IrfanView allows you to add text, arrows, boxes and labels to your pictures. I imagine that some of these features can be got with MS-Paint, Powerpoint and/or Windows Photo Viewer but IrfanView suits me fine. And of course I'd rather support a struggling and creative Bosniac than Bill Gates.

Irfan Škiljan was indeed born in Jajce [shown R with scenic waterfall], Bosnia but developed IrfanView while studenting in Austria in 1996. He'd like you to address him (and his product), as Earfan [who sounds romantically like an escapee from Gondor] rather than Urfan [most probably an Ork]; so that would be polite. IrfanView is really useful, efficient and friendly and I haven't begun to scrape the surface of its graphics capabilities. Hats off!

Thursday 25 October 2018

Hi, my pronoun is Sir

Yesterday The Institute had a Diversity & Inclusion Day which was quite low key - and I was looking out for it. Anyone who thinks that non-binary bathrooms are a waste of plumbing could have sailed through the day with certainties all intact. Two things on the agenda: a table in the main concourse handing out wrist-bands, diversity badges and a heap of deeply unhealthy snacks, all of which disappeared very quickly. I've been wearing [with pride] my rainbow wrist-band, which I obtained on preview, 24/7 for more than a month now. Now I've gotten a badge [like L] to match - I R delirah!  The badge is tiny enough that it's not in your face but large enough to suggest that I am a BLT ally. A bit like the Fáinne to show that you are down with the gaeilgeoiri.

"BLT Ally" is a technical term; as I learned from item two on the agenda: a 30 minute tutorial on pronouns from the Student's Union Welfare & Equality Officer SUW&EO. There are 8,000 students in The Institute and 800 staff (tech, teach and admin), so it must have been disappointing to put out seats for 20 and have only 6 people in the room. You don't have to be gay or gender-fluid to join the LGBT+ Society, you just need your heart in the right place enough to support other people's right to be their true selves - a BLT Ally. I suggest that the issue of Naming of Identities is not going to go away and it's unlikely to get any simpler, so it's myopic to ignore the issue. As it was, the young SUW&EO spent most of her talk on how to do gender-naming in the Trans world; and there the issue seems quite straight-forward. Trans people inherited a pink or a blue babygro shortly after birth but, at some later stage, switched strips. They prefer to be addressed in the gender that they've landed in rather than the one they were assigned (after a quite cursory peek between their neonatal legs) at birth. No surprises there but you can't be sure, so it's polite to ask "what are your pronouns?" Someone may, for example, be all het up by having to be discriminated upon this single axis of personality at all at all and prefer the "singular they".  For many, the transition has been drawn out, invasive, expensive and traumatic, and to address them by the 'dead name' or dead pronoun is tiresome and/or offensive.

Yesterday we didn't get as far as Gender Politics 201: gender-neutral pronouns. People have been making things up in this area for more than 100 years. It wrecks ma head at the moment: I feel mighty smug about getting trans-pronouns sorted; gender-neutral is another day's work. Here's a list for you to get your tongue around: E; Ey; Hou; Hu; Peh; Per; Thon; Ve; Xe; Yo; Ze; Ze; Zie; Sie; Zhe. Me, I use s/he when I remember, but haven't sorted the possessives his/hers yet.

As a teacher, in a position of authority and in loco parentis in some sense, it is surely easier to start the term with "Hi students, this is Quantitative Methods 101, my name is Bob, my pronouns are Priv[ilege]and Sir".  It's a bit like my apology for now being too blind to recognise my students out of class. It's better to lay this stuff out at the beginning, to start a conversation, to suggest that I may be crass and oafish [and certainly ironic] in my interpersonal relationships but I'm not wilfully cruel or offensive. A lot of young people have been bullied at school, a smaller fraction have done the bullying and the largest section of all is those who stood by while it was going on. Having a conversation at the start lays down the implicit rule that there will be no such crap on Cap'n Bob's watch. Shamefully 20% of people feel bullied at work among 'adults'. More Bloboprevs on bullying.

We got some [TMI! I cried in my head] insight into what the trans process involves. There are only two qualified gender reassignment consultants in Ireland and the waiting times are as long as other elective surgery - 18-24 months in limbo on top of a lifetime of gender dysphoria.
You can get to inhabit the body that fits with two sorts of intervention:
  • hormones [various modes of administration] also has a 18-24 month lag-time, and costs €200/3mo if you go private because you can't wait
  • surgery [not only 'down there' but in around the chest and elsewhere: facial feminization therapy].
Now here's another thing that may resonate with the Home Education community. Many Trans people join their local LGBTQAI++ Society when they need support and friends. It can be brutal being gender-wrong so support is needed:
  • you get bullied all through school
  • you can't use the available toilets
  • clothes shopping is fraught
  • you can't get a good haircut
  • suicide attempts are 3x more likely; 
  • self-harm is 2x more likely;
  • stress, anxiety and depression 4x more likely;
But get this: after transition is complete, having created a body that feels right, many lapse their BLT+ subscription and avoid their old pals. All they want now is to pass for white their preferred gender; all those queer folk now get in the way of acceptance in their new reality. In 20 years of active membership of the Home Education Network HEN, we met dozens of transitory members. Typically a family would wash up with us because they were finished with school: the kids had been bullied [what? in school?] or failed to thrive or had crap teachers. HEN would take them in, brace them up, offer tea-and-sympathy, play-dates, workshops and an open heart. But after a year or two, these families would have recovered their equanimity, settled the kids, learned some useful lessons . . . and then left HEN because €25/year [including 4 issues of the Newsletter] is a lot of money if there is only one working parent. So Long and Thanks for All the Rice-Cakes.

Whoa! Where did that come from? That sounds quite cross and judgemental. But it's not really; it's acknowledging that Trans people, The Gays, HomeEddies are not defined by being Other, they are just like other folk except in this one dimension: cross, kind, selfish, generous, lazy, honest, faithless,  thoughtful, avaricious, diverse and, well, wonderful in that diversity.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Good ole boys

I wrote about Tannerite a couple of years ago. It's a mix of ammonium nitrate pellets and powdered aluminium that is dramatically explosive but only under particular and peculiar circumstances. The ingredients are sold in two separate packets that need to be thoroughly mixed and then impacted by high-velocity rifle bullet. You can throw the mixture about, drop it from a great height, even hit it sharply with a hammer and it will be like doing the same with a packet of rice. John Panther [seen above in his biblical beard] sells the stuff at $7 / 225g and appears to know what he's talking about. I'm hoping he wears ATL sandals too:
It is but a short step from Arkansas to shooting holes in cast-iron skillets "ma shoulder is still sore from shooting a 45-70 hot-load video". For those of us not brought up in Gunculture Gulch, USA, these ballistic exercises are a little anxiety inducing. .30-06, .308 and .30-30 all fire a bullet 7.62mm in diameter. There is a neatly drilled hole in the front and a great ragged-edged exit wound. This is the kind of weapon that people fire at each other in the USA killing about 100 people every day across the Federal Republic.

Me I feel a lot happier with an Atlatl, an arm-extender that can help you throw a spear with more force. Well maybe not you, or me, but someone who has learned the technique. Then you can go fishing.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Publish rubbish

Got another unsolicited, unintentionally funny, e-mail asking me to send my next manuscript to an Invention publisher:
Dear Sir/Madam,
Sub: Publish paper in Best Impact Factor Journal
Invention Journals have following different open access Journals: 
1. International Journal of Engineering and Science Invention (IJESI) 
     ISSN (Online) : 2319-6734 ISSN (Print) : 2319-6727 
2. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Science Invention (IJPSI) 
     ISSN (Online) :2319-6718 ISSN (Print) :2319-670X 
3. International Journal of Business and Management Invention (IJBMI) 
     ISSN (Online) : 2319-8028 ISSN (Print) : 2319-801X 
4. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention (IJHSSI) 
    ISSN (Online) : 2319-7722 ISSN (Print) : 2319-7714 
5. International Journal of Knitting and Batik Invention (IJKBI) 
    ISSN (Online) : 2319-7724 ISSN (Print) : 2319-7717 
6. International Journal of Mathematics and Statistics Invention (IJMSI) 
     ISSN (Online) : 2321-4767 ISSN (Print) :2321-4759 
This is unfortunate on so many levels. Comic sans is a laughably inappropriate font for scholarly discourse - unless you're the Irish Department of Agriculture, which used to require its 6 monthly reports on Comic sans forms. IJKBI have taken the positive meaning of Invention = Necessity is its mother etc., blissfully unaware [because English their first language not is?] of the meaning of untruth or fib; which is a strict No No in scholarly discourse: worse than Comic sans even.

Couple of real, not invented, stories about scientific publishing in the air last week. The First

1) An editorial in Nature Show Your Working about how the Chinese, and others, are trying to avoid predatory publishers, which are a waste of PRC money and of the reputation of their scientists. It's all very well to have China outstrip USA in the number of scientific papers [true dat] but it's a hollow ideological victory if most of those papers are low quality dross. The PRC government is punishing their workers if they publish in the official list of predatory journals. It might be a better, and easier to implement, idea to flip this and build a list of approved journals. Whichever, it is important to have the criteria for inclusion or exclusion evidence-based, clear and transparent and not subject to arbitrary whim. Cabells of Texas flags suspicious signs which mark a suspect publication to blacklist, such as the inclusion of fictional or dead editors, and pore spelinge. The positive-vetting side will approve journals if they: "list their profit or non-profit status clearly, list editors who are aware they are editors, use basic technology to detect plagiarism, and ensure that, if reviewers suggested by the author are used, they exist, and are competent in the field".

That final throw-away part about reviewers suggested by the author WTF?! is a wide-spread practice and seems to undermine the whole point of peer review. Inevitably authors will suggest reviewers who are friendly, or at least not arch-rivals. And if you-the-editor need help finding reviewers for the copy which gets submitted to your journal then maybe being an editor isn't within your competence. One of the games which authors play is 'guess the anonymous referee' which is not so hard in the narrow over-specialised fields in which most scientists work. A dead give-away is that reviewers find it hard not to mention their own timeless-classic papers as helpful comments to improve the paper under evaluation.

The 2) story is about the Profits in Publishing vimeo which I cited on Sunday. I'll post about that later when I've sorted my notes and have a clearer idea of my position. Probably: Down with this sort of thing!

Monday 22 October 2018

Green ways forward

Monday last week was we had the chilling over-heating report from the IPCC on climate change. Be very afraid, especially if you live near water. Then on Friday 12/10/18, The Beloved and Dau.I made a rare excursion to Wexford Library, Enniscorthy branch and came away with two books and two brochures "with my name on them". It may be that right now everything looks like Climate Change but both the brochures were relevant to the problem and/or its solution.  There's hint/preview [L] of a minibus juxtaposed with a truck for bringing copper ore to the surface.

The first brochure was a timetable for the LocalLink bus between Bunclody [pop 2,000] and Enniscorthy [pop 12,000 mit Kino und Schwimmbad]. It picks up in Bunclody M-F at 0800 and delivers you to the heart of the bigger town 45 minutes later. It takes so long for a 23km journey because it winkles through the hamlets of the hinterland picking up car-less folk coming in to collect their pension and blow it on horses, drink and mince-pies. It will take you back home at 16.15, which is rather a full day. On Friday there are 2 additional services in both directions, so you could nip into town and escape home before you'd spent your entire pension in boozer or bookies. That strikes me as money well spent, not only for climate abatement, but for social inclusion. One less person in a residential care centre because they've drunk themselves into oblivion at home alone will pay for the service. But here's the thing, the success of such services depends at great deal on their attention to detail. If a bus doesn't run because the driver is sick and there's no back-up, if it runs late in Winter because someone forget to fill the tank the night before, then people won't use the service. Attention to detail starts with the public face, which is a) the drivers b) the web. Here [R] is a slice of timetable for a fantastic new service along Waterford's Copper Coast / Costa na Déise from Dungarvan to Tramore.  Doe's anybody know where to put an apo'strophe any more? Doe's anybody care? Sportds Ground? Playgorund? Does it matter? Yes: a service that cannot be bothered to spell on timetable cannot be expected to run buses on timetable. That service runs three times a day in each direction on Tue Thu and Sat. I'm guessing that's better than running once a day everyday. It's good for us because Dau.II can get a Dublin Coach from Cork to Dungarvan for €5 and then along the coast to Bonmahon for another €3. She can have a bit of a swim, mow the lawn, have lunch, and catch the bus back to Cork. Win! best deal on carbon footprint, aerobic exercise, community service for old people and lunch thrown in. It's not just the Sunny South East: these rural bus services cover the country with a web of connectivity. Some of them are DRT [demand responsive transport] like Ring-a-Link of 20 years ago: you phone a switch-board and a minibus diverts to pick you up. Now listen up fellow shit-kickers, use these buses or some bean counter will take them away.

Mais revenons nous a nos brochures! The other leaflet that The Beloved picked up in Enniscorthy library was from the Office of Public Works and Wexford CoCo: Enniscorthy Flood Defence Scheme. For all of the 00s, Enniscorthy was where I caught the bus for Dublin. The town is built on a hill at a bend in the River Slaney, but the quays on either side of the river are subject to flooding. This is made worse by the fact that although 20km from the sea, the Slaney is tidal to Enniscorthy. Car swamping floods occurred in 1924, 1947, 1965, 2000 and 2015. The last was Storm Frank, which was the tail-end of the wettest December since records began [drone footage]. Building The Seamus "1916" Rafter bridge in the centre of town in 1991 created a significant impedance to waterflow:
I've been in Enniscorthy several times when the water was out of the river bed and creeping towards the houses and at least once when you couldn't see daylight under Seamus Rafter Bridge [SRB shown above when the water was 2m yet higher]. It's a problem because Enniscorthy is on the N11, the main road between Dublin and Europort Rosslare. The engineer who designed the dam bridge so low clearly flunked his/her hydrology exams in college. The current on&on&on-going never implemented plan is to demolish the SRB and replace it with a) a high level pedestrian bridge in the same location and a new road-bridge about 1 km downstream and a good 5 m higher [it all looks very modern in CGI]. That might do it by removing impediments to flow downriver; but expect the Rail bridge at the Northern upstream edge of town to be carried away in the next substantive flood.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Sunday Sunday 21Oct18

Today 'tis the Feast of St Fintán of Taghmon, Wexford's very own saint. Not to be confused with St Fintan of Clonenagh, another fellow entirely from the Midlands.

Saturday 20 October 2018

Living National Treasure

It has been a mad week for visiting celebs at The Institute. On Monday we had the Minister of Omerta, about whom I can tell you nothing. Wednesday was Volunteers Day  which  brought a number of Do Good organisations out of the woodwork and into the main concourse to drum up support among The Youth. The day was spear-headed by the Pres of our Student's Union and Father Trendy, our long-haired and affable ecumenical Pastor.
Between the two of them, they managed to bring Sr Stanislaus Kennedy of the Irish Sisters of Charity down to address the Voluntariat at 11.00am. Last year, they brought down Fr Peter McVerry and I was inspired by him too. By great good fortune, I had a clear window in my busy Wednesday schedule at that time, so didn't need to cancel class. Everyone has heard of Sr Stan, but a smaller number have heard her speak at length about the history of social justice in Ireland. In a sense that history is herstory, because when took her vows in 1958 aged 18 there were no state social services except unemployment benefit. If you were homeless, abused, deranged, alcoholic, foodless, friendless or just plain poor, you were on your own unless someone took pity on you and brought you to hospital or The County Home.  Regrettably the main source of such charity was the Catholic Church and strings of dependence and humility, not to say humiliation came with the territory. The deserving poor were looked after by the patriarchy so long as they didn't transgress the rules; especially the rules about extra-marital sex [see Magdalen Laundry etc.].

With the encouragement of her boss Peter Birch (the Catholic Bishop of Ossory, the top prelate in Kilkenny) young Stanislaus started changing the invisible certainties of those dark days. Bp Birch had attended the Vatican II confab in Rome in the early 60s where he met and was influenced by a clatter of Liberation Theology radicals from South America. These people stirred a generous handful of Marxist dialectic into the gruel of the Church doctrine believing that they owed a greater duty of care to the dispossessed than to The Man and the status quo. Bishop Birch encouraged and helped finance the natural inclination of young Sr Stan [L looking ever so slightly unhinged?] to do the right thing. . . . She set up the first Meals-on-Wheels system in the World for poor lonely old people. The same building housed a laundry run by volunteer students to save pensioners from sudsing their sheets in the kitchen sink. Not all the laundries of the day were judgemental abusive hell-holes for sinners   [see Magdalen Laundry etc.]. Then she moved into mental health and mental handicap provision: setting up Ireland's first special needs school and a workshop for the disabled  integrated with the now multimega Kilkenny Design shop.

After 20 years a-growing in Kilkenny she moved to Dublin where there were a lot more homeless people to succour. A transformative event was when she went and spent a year hanging out with a group of homeless women, living their life and giving ear to their stories. Even the existence of homeless women was incredible to the hierarchy (and indeed most people) because they didn't fill the imagined demographic. Homeless people were men with a drink problem, not women with a poverty problem or a thumping husband problem. Something that Sr Stan has learned along her difficult path is that most people, most of the time, cannot see the problem until someone provides a solution. Then they are all over it: contributing their time, their contacts, their celebrity, their money. Last Friday, for example, the rich and famous were paying for the privilege of spending a night of the streets at the annual Shine a Light Gig. But when Sr Stan really needed support, when she wrestled with the intractable, ghastly nightmares of inequality, inequity and iniquity . . . then she was on her own.

I have expressed my reservations about The Voluntariat. I can't quite sit comfortable with the idea of spending €2,000 for a week on the Camino de Santiago under an arrangement where half your money goes to Focus Ireland and half to self-indulgence. The transaction feels wrong because I've shed fat and certainties while I trudging across the high plains of La Meseta Central under a broiling sun [and on a lot less than €130/day] . Here's a thought, give all the freakin' money to Focus, leave your baggage [actual, metaphorical and cultural] behind and walk a transformation in yourself. At least, this Camino wheeze makes no pretence about doing good out foreign, Voluntourism [n. Shipping white folks to the Third World where they get in the way because they bring a lot of cultural baggage and no useful skills] is worse.

Focus Point, which developed into Focus Ireland was her first big project in Dublin and it grew directly from her experience with those homeless women. Focus may not have been able to find homes for everyone who came through the doors but it did provide a welcome, a nice cup of tea, loads of advice and a civilised meal at rock bottom prices. You couldn't get a bowl of gruel at Focus Point even if you asked for it and the soup came with croutons - because everyone deserves croutons. For the dispossessed, money is much less important than to be recognised as a man and a brother; unless you prefer to be recognised as a woman and a sister. Sr Stan voted Yes on Marriage Equality in 2015, so I guess Focus will endeavour to recognise you in your essential self, in all its current diversity. That is not the same as applying a label with a box on it for ticking.

Focus was about the homeless, and when the urgency of that problem abated, Sr Stan saw that immigrants were similarly getting the bum's rush, so she set up ICI the Immigrant Council of Ireland to look at some of their problems but only through the eyes of a pragmatic, useful and compassionate solution. But see also Nasc.

In 1998, Sr Stan acquired a 1/5th of a hectare of land on Stanhope Street to set up The Sanctuary, an ecumenical place of stillness [R a glimpse of the garden] in the heart of the bustling city. Why, The Beloved ran sat a Mindfulness Session there a tuthree years ago because The Sanctuary encourages that sort of thing.

Heck-&-jimminy, any one of these ventures would secure Sr Stan's place in paradise and her responsibilities to so many organisations could get to be either an empire or a burden. But, like myself, she believes in retire early and retire often. She has retired from each of her extraordinarily creative domains in turn lest it grow into her own shape . . . and no further. By handing over the reins to another person a new dimension of possibility, previously invisible, is created and allowed to develop.

For me as a scientist, a final really important revelation from her talk is how much Sr Stan and her organisations are committed to evidence. If they secure any money for payroll, one of the first hires is often a researcher to find things out - as they really are; which is rarely as they should be; or as we complacently imagine them to be.
Sister Stan
Living National Treasure 

Invisible certainty

Sr Stanilaus Kennedy has uspet the cart for a lot of people by exposing as myths their certainties and things impossible to change. Here are some footnotes on certainty and invisibility:[Tintin - Turing - Berger - Berkeley - Brandeis - Barkis - Christie - humane killing - prayer - southpaws - thumps - smacks - blacks - the gays - psychosis - teaching - prisons - patriots]
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” Mark Twain. The point about most of those pieces is that there is a lot which we take for granted, think is normal and so unexceptional, we assume that everyone knows this already . . . and that what we know is correct. All wrong!

Friday 19 October 2018

Stepping backwards into space

Several years ago, The Boy set off for New Zealand. He was going to take advantage of a working visa for young people whereby you could work in NZ for a year if you started before your 30th birthday. There as a possibility that he'd get snagged by a Kiwi girl and never come back. Before his flight, he took us on a nostalgic walk along the coastal path from Sutton to Howth - the site of many youthful escapades. We paused on a shingled beach "That's the cliff which Robbie fell down while drunk / having his photo taken". The cliff was almost vertical,covered with screen, rocks, tussocks and bushes and at least 10m high. The consensus was that Robbie was a relaxed as a rag-doll and somehow went with the flow. In any case he picked himself up and walked away from the event. The Boy is 18/20 years older than his sisters and he has told them nightmarish war stories under a pact that they wouldn't tell the parents. There is a streak of daring in many young men that amounts to madness.

I was reflecting thus because of a snippet on RTE news about a study by The National Library of Medicine that 259 people had died while taking selfies. That can't be true, I thought, the NLM doesn't do research, even bibliographic research; they provide the infrastructure so that students can do literature reviews.  They posted the relevant paper, but that doesn't make them the authors. The BBC also mis-represents their role by claiming the NLM "recommend that 'no selfie zones' should be introduced at dangerous spots to reduce deaths". No they don't. RTE has an excellent Science Correspondent in Will Goodbody, you could wish that the newsroom talks to him before blurfing out another fatuity. There are several recent studies on the matter of selficide, most from the Third World. A report from TJTES the Turkish Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery which claims "The most preferred site of taking selfies was the edge of the cliff." No it isn't. That's only true for selfies ending badly. A report last year from India claims 75 deaths 2014-2016. Whereas a more recent study, also from India, which everyone is picking up on this week, claims twice that number.

Selfies are recent: one of my students insisted on including me in one just days after I started work at The Institute in 2013. Selfie was later announced as 2013 word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.
Obviously the mere act of taking a selfie is not fatal. The proximate cause of death is intriguing in a need-more-info way: Drowned 70, transport 51, fall 48, fire 48, electrocution 16, firearm 11, animal 8 and other 7. Some of these were designated risky while the others are just unfortunate. Being selfie-distracted and swiped by a car is different from walking backwards into the traffic or outwards from the top of a cliff like Robbie. What are the animals involved? I bet most of them bigger than a breadbox and had teeth. Boys-will-be-boys are 4x more likely than women to exit in the risky department. It is also no surprise, although it may need to be said, that selficide peaks among the 15-30 demographic and that 75% of all fatalities are male.It's also interesting that 259 deaths result from 137 incidents.

They limit their studies to reports in English language newspapers and then are surprised by the fact that 60% of the reports are from India. There are a helluva a lot of Indians, folks: 1.3 billion = a sixth of all the peeps on the planet. Nevertheless when you adjust for base population, the rate is about 10x in India compared to USA or Australia.

Do we need to worry about this? Is it true that Selfies take a toll on a large number of adolescents? Is it appropriate or proportionate to implement certain measures taken to reduce selfie deaths such as declaration of certain areas as “No selfie zones” Inevitably, in a turmoil of self-reference, several people are developing GPS and situationally-aware apps to alert phone-owners where selfies are likely dangerous. The last year anybody counted the number of selfies taken was 2015 and the total was estimated to be 25 billion. That resulted in a reported 50 deaths. I suggest that you are more likely to die poking yourself in the eye because you failed to remove the spoon from your tea.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Undulant zoonosis

I've started my final year research project students off on their 20 week sojourn at the frontiers of science - discovering things that nobody else knows. This year my numbers are down to nine but numbers are down across the board, so it's not (entirely) all about me. I fielded a question from the immunology-of-tuberculosis chap who is currently reading like mad about his chosen field. "If Mycobacterium tuberculosis which causes bloody sputum and a lingering <coff> <coff> death in people and Mycobacterium bovis, which does ditto damage in cattle, are 99% identical? Why do they have different names?" That's a damn good question which I've been asking people for the last 15 years and hasn't yet gotten a satisfactory answer. The same day I had that question I came across a very similar situation from 100 years ago, which concerns one of those extraordinary women who, in far less equal and inclusive society that we have today, carved out a niche in the cliff of science and made ground-breaking discoveries from that vantage point.

I speak of Alice Evans [L] who earned her B.S. from Cornell in 1909 and an M.S. from U. Wisconsin at Madison the following year. Bear in mind that, despite being an adult and highly educated, she wasn't entitled to vote in those distant times. She had the opportunity to carry on for a PhD, they begged her to do a PhD but she just couldn't afford any more education and instead secured a federal job working for The Bureau of Animal Industry (Dairy Division); initially in Wisconsin and latterly in Washington DC. One of the problems which she worked on  was the causative agent of undulant fever or Malta fever which some suspected came from goat's milk. This was years before DNA-based diagnostic tests were invented; indeed 40 years before the structure of DNA was revealed by Crick and Watson. The main identification tool was the microscope, coupled with Gram Staining which had been around since the 1880s. The shape of bacteria, which you could observe, was treated a key diagnostic feature; which turned out to be largely irrelevant for categorisation. A good example of streetlight science.

David Bruce, a world-roaming Scot, who discovered the causes of African sleeping sickness - Trypanosoma brucei - was also working on Malta fever which he observed as spherical and so assigned to the genus Micrococcus. Meanwhile Bernhard Bang in Denmark had isolated a rod-shaped microbe strongly associated with an outbreak of spontaneous abortion in cattle which he binned to Bacillus, which much later came to be known as Brucella abortus [R very short rods especially immediately after cell division]. Alice Evans looked at numerous cultures of both 'species' grown under a wide variety of conditions and basically couldn't tell them apart. Interestingly she observed them as both spherical and rod-shaped morphs depending on the growth conditions. Her paper laying out the results was published in 1918 and met with near universal skepticism. Evans was correct nevertheless, despite being a woman and not having a doctorate.

Almost immediately afterwards, everyone around her was engaged in the epidemic of Spanish Flu which killed 20 million people worldwide in the months after the Armistice. Alice Evans herself felt crook at work one day, realised she had probably contracted the disease, went home and took to her bed for a month. No 'flu vaccines back then, you just had to tough it out. One problem was that nobody could reliably identify the causative agent. The gamma-proteobacteria Haemophilus influenzae was so frequently isolated from 'flu patients that it was a strong suspect, but a red herring because, as we now know, Influenza is caused by a virus. That is another example of how the most obvious feature in the landscape turns out to be irrelevant. Maybe it's not too tendentious to find a moral or a metaphor for the current obsession, which the best of us are trying to shake loose, with gender and skin colour as the defining criteria for worth, talent, intelligence, ability to throw a baseball, or run a business.

Evans' interest in brucellosis was not satisfied with identifying the cause, so she shifted her duff to the Hygienic Laboratory across town. Her new place The Division of Pathology and Bacteriology later evolved into the NIH. And I'm getting much of this information from an autobiographical memoir, by Alice Evans typed up, in 1963 when the author was 82 years old, on a really crappy manual typewriter and now captured as PDF by the NIH Office of History. Her researches into the epidemiology of brucellosis started a long long trek to eliminating it from both cattle and people. The disease was eradicated in Malta as recently as 2005. Shamefully it took until 2009 for the same declaration to apply in Ireland. Her evidence, culled from the literature and from her own researches that brucellosis was frequently transmitted from cattle to people was rigorously opposed by The Patriarchy of the day in which the dairy industry was in cahoots with some of the Big Boys of Bacteriology. This was especially true of Dr Theobald Smith, a Professor at Harvard and the Rockefeller Institute and a pioneer in tick-borne diseases [whc prev], Salmonella infections and anaphylactic shock. He spent about ten years of his life in steadfast denial of Evans' evidence and making it his business to snipe at her work behind her back. When eventually the overwhelming tide of fact put a stop to his gallop, he never found the grace within himself to apologise or admit that he had been wrong. It mattered because brucellosis was hard to diagnose accurately and was therefore quietly but relentlessly knocking $100 million a year off the value of the beef and dairy industry while Smith maintained stoutly that there was nothing to see here.

One of the studies Evans carried out would absolutely fail the informed consent ethics rules today. Evans and here team got access to 500 blood samples submitted to the Hygienic Laboratory for a Wassermann test (for syphilis). They tested these samples for Brucella and found about 3% positive; implying that this potentially dangerous bacteria was much more widespread than previously believed. You can't nowadays just use somebody's blood because it is sitting in a freezer in the basement of your place of work.

Perhaps inevitably, despite astute and rigorous precautions, Alice Evans eventually unwittingly took one for the team by getting infected with Brucella. It persisted as a chronic infection undulating between her feeling reasonably fit with feeling like death warmed up. It was many years before she was diagnosed and the suspicion of malingering or neurasthenia aka chronic fatigue syndrome was finally scotched.

To bring this Blob full circle, Alice Evans' memoir also recounts how Robert Koch, early paragon of microbiology, was largely responsible for asserting that the two strains of Mycobacterium were quite different species and the bovine strain just couldn't infect humans. He was wrong. The proof of the pudding turned out to be in the drinking and human tuberculosis was given a severe knock when  authorities started to clean up the dairy industry and/or insisted that milk must be pasteurised.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Chatham House rules

The Minister of Xxxxxx, Aaaaaaa Bbbbbbb, was invited to address the student Law Society at The Institute on Monday. That's quite a coup, and it's just a couple of weeks since our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was making a progress through our halls. I cut short my 3 hour research supervision class so that we could all go and get some informed opinion direct from the horse's cabinet member's mouth. I don't think any of my students came across campus to hear the Minister and the lecture theatre was only about half full - mostly with Law Students. In his introduction the neatly besuited young president of the Law Society quickly revealed how the coup was achieved: he and Bbbbbbb both hail from Mmmmmmm Co Lllllll. Next April we are hosting Environ2019, the national environmental science conference and are scrabbling about to get a key-note speaker to address both the envirnoraks and the public on climate change.  Names like Mary Robinson and Al Gore are being bandied about but it's not going to happen unless somebody drinks in the same pub OR we can find $50,000 for an 'honorarium'.

At the beginning of his short talk the minister announced that the meeting would be held under Chatham House Rules without troubling to explain what that meant. These are rules of engagement for public discourse on controversial matters. "When a meeting is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker, nor that of any other participant, may be revealed". The were first used in 1927 at the London headquarters of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and are widely implemented (and have been translated into multiple languages) to allow freer exchange of ideas. Because there are no  imposable sanctions the rules has considerable moral force and allow participants to open up and say what they really think rather than reading the party line from a heavily vetted script.

Although my moral compass is quite wobbly, and although I feel the rule was imposed without informed consent, I won't therefore report on anything that the minister or any other participant had to say, except to acknowledge that I was neither shocked nor surprised by any of it. It won't, for example, put me in a stronger position to bet on when the next general election will be held.

Outside in the concourse, I was able to catch a techie job fair at which a number of engineering companies were handing out logo-imprinted stuff and brochures to recruit our brightest and best students to work for them. I found one of my colleagues working through the coffee and croissants which were surely laid out for the delegates rather than us. He sourly remarked that Ryanair was handing out pens to prospects but they didn't give them (or uniforms or work-shoes) out to employees. So I went to snag one [L] for The Boy, whose second job out of school was working for Ryanair [prev] as a GHA - ground handling agent. The yellow fob is a) a floating keyring doubling as b) a stress ball. I already have a stress ball from Griffith College which I use to therapise my wonky thumb joints while driving. And the cup? It's a Eco Bamboo Fiber Cup made in China and meant to save the planet be being fully biodegradable -
bamboo + corn-meal + 'resin = biodegradable
except the silicone lid and insulating sleeve which emphatically are not biodegradable.