Monday 30 August 2021

St Carnegie of Library

 There's been a bit of traffic recently about Chuck Feeney, an Irish-American entrepreneur who made an $8billion fortune from the duty-free trade . . . and gave it all away. I may come back to that, but the give-back story made me reflect on Andrew Carnegie who was the Jeff Bezos of his day: ruthlessly exploiting workers to enrich shareholders [incl himself]. Carnegie spent his declining years endowing libraries in the USA and Ireland and elsewhere. Jessamyn West, librarian and Metafilterian from Vermont has just put manners on a website documenting all the Carnegie Libraries in New England. That sent me whooshing down a madeleine-scented rabbit-hole to 1982.

In June of that year we made a weekend trip from Boston to the town of Milo, slap-dab in the centre of Maine . . . for the sole reason that, 6½ years previous, we had attached that handle to The Boy. We wandered around town taking photos of the chap in front of "his" Fire Station, his Hardware, his Library [L], his town limits etc etc etc.  Apart from the fishing, it was the most tourist attention the town received that year. The building has the look&feel of a Carnegie Library and indeed it's on the list. It was one of the very few such trips we made out into the New England countryside, and we left the US the following year.

 From Boston we had 7 years in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and returned to Ireland in 1990 with a teenager having left with a toddler. In those pre-internet days, The Boy was mighty in the world of Dungeons and Dragons but it was hard to find people to play with where we lived in rural chill out near the airport. In the background of this dilemma, we had house-guests who were looking to return to Ireland. The draughty rambling farmhouse which we lived in was . . . rambling to the extent of 5 bedrooms upstairs, so there was plenty of room for a couple of wanderers. Long before we'd got tired of Kevin and Lesley, they went all independent on us and rented a small flat in Dun Laoghaire. We went to visit a couple of times and, because it was there, paused at the fruit and veg outlet at the bottom of our lane to bring some fresh greens and a sack of potatoes to the city-dwellers. It was more of a joke than anything else: instead of a brack or a packet of biscuits, like. Years later, after Kevin died, Lesley told us that our random sack of kindness spuds was the difference between feast and going to bed hungry in the financial knife-edge they were living. Sadly, they couldn't make Doldrum Ireland work and they left for better fortune in British Columbia.

Mais revenons nous à nos biblioteques! It transpired that, every Tuesday evening, a D&D coven assembled in the dungeons of Carnegie Free Library in Dun Laoghaire. The Boy really wanted to go, I really really didn't want to collect him in the car at 2200hrs. But Kevin and Lesley offered their couch to crash on after the boy had finished slaughtering goblins and promised to fire him out the door early enough on Wednesday for him to catch the DART to school. The Boy got to play D&D but more importantly he got to develop a relationship with two wonderful and inspiring adults who weren't his parents. It was an important step in his journey to become his true self. 

Sunday 29 August 2021

St Eadwold's Day

Tis the feast of St Eadwold of Cerne, patron of tennis-players

Friday 27 August 2021

Black & Irish

Tommy Tiernan was for a long time a stand-up comedian but has more recently slipped into an RTE seat as a no-holds-barred interviewer.  This is weathering the pandemic reasonably well - fewer hugs and more edge maybe?  The 3rd episode in the current series features Brenda "My Left Oscar" Fricker, David "LGBTei Defensor" Norris and Bashir Otukoya, Assistant Professor in Advanced European Union Law at the School of Law and Government of Dublin City University. Chances are, if you have a drop of the ould Irish in your veins, that you didn't need me to ID Fricker or Norris. Likewise, you've prolly never 'eard of Bashir Otukoya. This is only partly because he's been on the planet for 50 years less than the other two guests but also because he black and we're not ready to cede the talking stick to New Irish like him.

Note: TT and Fricker talk frankly about depression [meds, hospitalization, Anthony Clare] while TT and Norris agree to differ about how delightful is the sight of human groins. So that's not particularly fluffy in the entertainment stakes.

Tiernan is imo basically a kind and empathic guy but he's got some history in provoking outrage after incorporating The Downs and The Holocaust into his patter. I don't think he's better than Patriarch me [or Patriarch you] in being down with The New Irish. "down with" here being an internalization of the crap which black folks have to wade through every day in Ireland. "At least they don't get shot by the cops on the regular" is a very low bar, lads. That time all my white students secured their work placement and none of the black kids did: it outraged me but I didn't feel it.

So TT asked almost-Dr Otukoya [R] where he comes from [A. Drogheda] which you have to be really careful doesn't come over as where do you really come from. Which is what Dau.I, who has the best hair and best tan in the family, gets all the time. Colleagues and customers justify / exemplify this intrusive curiosity by making circular motions with one hand around their face. As if to say, _I_ have this pasty white dial with freckles, what's your story.

And here's the answer to getting work-experience. "Bashir Otukoya" failed to get an interview for a job, so "Richie Bashir" re-submiited his application with an identical CV and was called back the next day. Don't it make you tear your hair?

TT: I know a school in Galway where the kids are so confident with their different ethnicity that they're able to play blacks vs whites soccer matches at lunch-time.
Dr O: Sure, we did / had that but [I paraphrase] WTF! It's not "wonderful" to be separated into groups as a child based on your skin colour. It doesn't affect the white kids but it ghettoizes the blacks. And it doesn't help with integration later on for employment, housing, get the attention of bar-staff. 

I hope Tommy Tiernan learned something from that exchange . . . and by extension a million other, slightly complacent, RTE regulars. It's not quite 100 years since the Black & Tans were meting out similar treatment on the plain vanilla Irish. A lot done, lads, but lots still on the To Do list.

Wednesday 25 August 2021

getting to egg

When I was staying with friends in Boston in the early 80s, I felt the urge to make a layer cake. It must have been a birthday. A 3-decker chocolate fudge cake with orange butter icing featured in the available cook book and I duly plugged through the recipe. It was a towering success! and I added Joyce's Fudge

Cake to my repertoire. There came a time when I was fired up to make this party piece but could only locate 2 cake tins. Cranking down the ingredients to 2/3 of the original recipe should work, except for the question what is 2/3 of two eggs?  My notes indicate that I found two small eggs and used less butter; keeping the measurable quantities (flour, sugar, soured milk, cocoa) in 2/3 proportion. It was fine. But a fudge cake is supremely forgiving; it's meant to be a bit gooey and it's impossible to overcook. Overcooked fudge cake is called cookies. Heck; how big is "an egg" anyway? How long is a piece of string?

My pals at metafilter recently asked about a similar problem. The recipe requiring 3 large eggs but Cookie having only 2 large eggs and 4 medium eggs. My nerdnik answer was 

  • Weigh the two L eggs you have: call that E2
  • You goal is E2 * 1.5
  • Weigh the 4 M eggs: call that M4
  • IF |M4 - E2*1.5| > |(E2 + M) - E2*1.5| THEN DO E2+M ELSE DO M4
The shoulder bars on |M4 - E2*1.5| indicate the difference between M4 and E2*1.5 regardless of which is bigger.In words, whichever of LLM or MMMM is closer to LLL is your best guess. Others noted that this was not the obsessive hill to die on. Carrot cake will be fine so long as there is some egg in there. But I like the idea of compensating a deficiency / abundance in one ingredient by tweaking another. In the ingredient space, margarine has more in common with eggs and milk than any of them do with flour.

My current book, recommended by Tim Harford channelled by Dau.II is Math Without Numbers by Milo Beckman. Beckman's boast is that the only numerals in this math book are the page numbers. His early chapters are about LWH dimensions and beyond that to n-dimensional hyperspace of which I acquired some intuitive understanding in my synonymous codon usage days. You can lose your readers quickly in such abstractions, so Beckman talks about the dimensions of bakery. 

It cooking time and temperature are independent and quasi-complementary units of measurement. Meringues can either be made quickly at a high temperature or sloowwly in a "cool" oven. You don't get the same result but both varieties are supremmmnmmely edible. But there are the other dimensions alluded to above: flour, cocoa, eggs, butter, cream, milk, sprinkles. In this multi-dimensional bakerverse there is a region called cookies and others called cake and bread. Throw too many sultanas in the bread and you're stepping into cake territory and may need an egg for credibility.

Monday 23 August 2021


One of my neighbours was born a sheep- and turnip-farmer but re-invented himself as a stone-mason. He was talking to an acquaintance about megaliths and the Earth Mother and mentioned Old Bob, the Guardian of the Ringstone. The thought being the deed, said acquaintance appeared in our yard last year talking a streak about the interface between chromosomes, cthulhu, catastrophism, cuneiform, comets and catholics. It was quite intense, but not without interest. I knew he'd be just the chap for Magicians of the Gods by Graham Hancock. But I couldn't locate my copy of the book to unload on this new reader. Graham Hancock is university educated journalist and book-author and writes engagingly. The probby is that his publications are not peer-reviewed and he extrapolates to the skies from rather sparse data. I've cited him prev for the distinction of having his TED talk cancelled / suppressed.  

Hancock tl;dr: a large extraterrestrial body slammed into an ice-sheet in Canada causing a) a megamaxima-tsunami of ice-melt which altered the N. American landscape forever b) had similar geoglobal effects as the Chicxulub meteor that terminated the dinosaurs 65 mya c) ended a sophisticated civilisation which had considerable engineering skills. Capital S for Science has absorbed Chicxulub into the canon but baulks at Hancock's arguments; labelling them pseudohistory, pseudoarchaeology etc.

Needless to say, I found the book the day after the questing acquaintance QA left our yard and sent him a free-post card saying how much I'd enjoyed our chat and giving the citation for the book. From a vague description of where he lived I was able to abstract an Eircode and a townland even if he'd never shared his last name.

Last Monday arvo QA rocked up again and we picked up our conversation where we left off . . . and I gave him the book. He is currently rootling around in a section of the outréverse described by / invented by Zecharia Sitchin. When I was growing up Immanuel Velikovsky [ Worlds in Collision] and Erich von Däniken [ Chariots of the Gods?] were selling like hot cakes and Sitchin was running in the same race, albeit beyond my orbit. The 12th Planet "Niburu" is revealed by close reading of Sumerian clay tablets. It is "12th" because ☿ ♀ ♁ ♂ ♃ ♄ ⛢ ♆ ♇ ☾ ☉ = 11! Although why the Sumerians would have recognised ♇  Pluto rather than the much more easily observable large asteroids like Ceres and Vesta is yet another mystery. 

According to Sitchin, current humanity is the result of a genetic engineering experiment carried out by the Anunnaki alien inhabitants of Niburu to make them more tractable domestic and industrial slaves. As I suggested above, in my book people can write whatever they want, so long as they don't require me to believe them. I declined the loan of two of Zecharia Sitchin's many books - I'm currently busy with Doughnut Economics and a history of British cheese; which are both much tastier.

Sunday 22 August 2021

Sun Moon Stars

Talking heads

Friday 20 August 2021

Goll dang plum perfick

We've had the whole family visiting for a couple of weeks. It's been most excellent altogether. Only reasonable amounts of he-said-she-said and only reasonable amounts of ice-cream. The parents of Gdaus have been working from home foreign, so the Aunties have been getting their nibling fix with the pandemic having put the kibosh on 2020. The best thing seems to be a bit of a rope swing at the bottom of the yard - this is clocking up more hours than the various available 'devices'.

Neighbour came by with a crate of windfall plums and invited us to scoop as much as we could use . . . 3.5kg which settled at 2.85kg after discarding the livestock and the pits. The standard wisdom is that fruit should be matched with an equal weight of sugar; but Dau.II and I decided to skimp the sugar down to 2.5kg. You can see from the tide-mark [L] that these quantities are close to the carrying capacity of my trusty jam-boiler. But the photo doesn't do justice to the pink and yellow sunset which materialised shortly after the brew came to the boil. And some wonder of chemical transformation made the final product 10x pots of a deeply satisfying plummy purple. 

There is a lot of virtue in jam: once it's made it lasts forever at room temperature. The same cannot be said about ice-creams.  After slaving over a hot stove for a chunk of the afternoon, the sun came out and ice-creams all round were ordered from the deep-freeze. We lolled about on the grass consuming cold saturated animal fat [except for the working parents!]. With silent aplomb, one of our two resident buzzards Buteo buteo swooped over the gate and settled in the lower branches of our tragic ash tree Fraxinus excelsior. It was like an omen and a blessing on the work of preserving the work of god with the work of human hand. A perfick day.

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Mapping the territory

 We have all our descendants at home for a tuthree weeks, The Boy, Dau.I, Dau.II, Gdau.I, Gdau.II and a scatter of partners to make it not all about me. Simultaneously we are making a start on the 2021 Mountain Meitheal, whereby we trudge up the hill with our neighbours to alter the landscape a little. If there was no work-of-human-hand [and gob-of-sheep] up there, our dry-heath biome would quick enough revert to scrubby forest. This year we are again thrashing the ferns Pteridium aquilinum, because it is inedible to sheep and shades nutritious grass, forbs and heather from the best of the Summer sun. Turns out that a licence is needed to extirpate this species and that delayed the bracken-thrashing until it was much too late to be effective: the spores having come and gone and photosynthesis having replenished the fern's underground reserves. 

But having started the process we are obliged to follow through with the actual work. On Friday last week, I was up with the lads including three women, doing a day's work with my scythe. Neighbours turned up with a variety of cutting implements small and large. A scythe is by far the best tool for this task if the terrain is half-way rock-free [don't need to be flat]. But ferns are chest-high and opaque and a >!ding!< of the blade on an invisible stone will quickly take the edge off the tool. Bracken stems are also rich in silica which will also insidiously blunt steel. It was a dry light-breezy sunny day, and it was delightful to still get paid while having a tea-break and catching up on the community gossip. Our Ecologist Tom the Plant has been for a few yomps up our hill, at least once with me trailing along. From his desk in Galway Tom marked out 3x 20 acre plots and shaded them in on a satellite map:

Which is fine and dandy in theory but a step or two removed from actual boots on the ground. My task was to transpose theory into a practical delimitation of of the area of obligation w.r.t. bracken cutting.

There are many ways to skin this cat, but my preferred was to use Barry Dalby's 'mazing 1:25,000 map of The Blackstairs [relevant fragment L]. The sections of forestry South and West of the Common are the only obvious waymarks on both maps . . . and the mountain wall between them, of course. But the lines are straight and it is math-trivial to change between the different scales on the two maps: a ruler with mm ticks is key! The most wonderful function in Dalby's cartography is an app with which you can a) zoom in and so increase the scale/detail b) follow a blue dot across the app-map which represents to location of the device c) a cross-hairs in the middle of the app-view reporting the Lat & Long of that position.

My transposition indicated that the 2021 quadrat marched along the 450m contour-line which runs parallel to the mountain wall and about 180m distant from that obvious feature of the landscape. All I had to do was attach flags to the top of a dozen bamboos and traverse that contour installing these markers at regular intervals. Easy sitting at the kitchen table; challenging on the ground having to juggle glasses, phone, paper map. bamboos; foolish to essay this task alone on a Sunday afternoon in August. A few Winters ago, a neighbour's sheep dog fell into a deep hole among the steep granite boulder scree which makes up the SW face of the hill of the face of our hill. His phone fell in after from his frozen hand and he was never able to return to the exact spot to recover other asset. Last year, I fell prostrate on the hill, my sim-free smartphone popped out of my shirt pocket and it took two people 30 minutes to find t'bugger. Me, Sunday, I fell into invisible fern-covered grikes three times. I only grazed my fist once and sustained no breaks or bruises, but each time I reflected that I was bouncier 50 years ago.

Monday 16 August 2021

Hopkins' Rule

Scientists like to simplify their universe. When I go across the lane to view the sheep I don't need to have a roll-call: Flossie, Mimi, Mittens, OldMa, Batty, Freda, Bambi, EasyPC, Penny, Maude, Bonkers, Xsoni, Nisette, Gismo, Yana, Thethra. No, I can just clock off "64 legs" or "16 sheep" and return to the kitchen for a reviving cup of tea. I have acknowledged a commonality among some of the white objects in the field. I exclude other white things - tinkle-tissue, thistle-down, hanks-of-wool-on-a-bush - because they are NotSheep. Clearly Bob's Rule of Sheep is trivial; but mightier people than I have formulated

  • Hooke's Law on the elasticity of springs
  • Charles's Law relating the volume and pressure of gases
  • Bergmann's Rule: that for a group of related species, the larger members tend to be found nearer the Poles, smaller in the tropics [Climate change extension via Kottke]
  • Allen's Rule about the size of appendages [legs, ears, wings] reducing in size as their owners live North; or indeed South. Fennec Vulpes zerda vs Arctic Fox Vulpes lagopus
Observations in Physics and Chemistry tend to be more accurately reproducible: so Law; while Biology is inherently noisier, with more exceptions: so Rule. The post title is an hilarious riff on this, because I'm here to write about Hopkins' tape-measure!

To set the scene, let's think about Tenure. For scientists going all Ad Astra, apart from a Nobel Prize, the height of ambition might be Tenure at Harvard. Tenure is great in principle: it is a permanent contract so that the very best academics can pursue their researches even if these are edgy, rule-breaking, challenging, interesting or novel. Indeed, the powers-that-be should be hoping for something different or difficult from these academic elites. Obtaining this academic prize is a gruelling, multi-year "tenure-track" process of delivering academic jewels for peer-review . . . as well as schmoozing your colleagues / judges, mentoring younger people and developing inspiring teaching materials. And don't forget to volunteer for the boring admin tasks that someone has to do - timetables, Friday donuts, ethics committee.

There have been two scandalous stories this year about two senior, radical, black, female academics who have struggled through their tenure-track treacle only to be dissed at the final hurdle. Lorgia García Peña was denied tenure at Harvard and Nikole Hannah-Jones was refused entry to The Boy's Club in U. North Carolina. Both those links are to MetaFilter for not only the story but some hot take commentary from the liberal lefties who inhabit that section of the Blogosphere.  The real killer about failing your tenure application is that if you're not good enough for a permanent position at Elite U; then you're not wanted at any level and you are effectively sacked. Prof Hannah-Jones was, adding insult to injury, offered a five-year consolation contract at UNC. Sod off, she said, and took off for a proper job commensurate with her quals at [trad black] Howard U. in Washington DC. 

This kind of nonsense is the antithesis of Old Tenure as originally conceived: it is a bunch of patriarchs pulling up the draw-bridge behind their sorry arses. I have known a number of cases where the hot-shot goes quickly off the boil shortly after obtaining their permanency: metamorphosing in to a curmudgeonly lump of deadwood occupying an office which would better be given over to someone younger, femaler, tanner and feistier. As Michael Caine quipped in Educating Rita, the only way to dislodge a professor who has tenure is if he "buggers the bursar". Which has become no joke as a succession of tenured professors have been #MeToo revealed as shagging or bullying their students in an outrageous leveraging of the power differential.  

Mais revenons nous a notre Hopkins! You might think, therefore, that having obtained your tenure all would be fine and dandy. Nancy Hopkins was a hotshot developmental geneticist working in MIT in the last century. In her 40s, during a sabbatical with in Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard’s [who prev] lab, she had an epiphany! Zebra fish Danio rerio was the way forward for understanding the extraordinary process whereby a single fertilised egg becomes a moving, thinking, metabolising, complexly interacting member of its ecosystem. This change in academic direction required an extra 200 sq.ft of lab space . . . which seemed unaccountably unavailable for her, despite the tenure, and all. She had the impression that all the male PIs in her building had bigger labs than she did. But she took her tape-measure and a note book to generate the data to test her hypothesis.

  • Tenured Prof Hopkins 1,500 sq.ft.
  • more junior male colleagues, average 2,000 sq.ft.
  • Tenured professors, male 3,000 - 6,000 sq.ft.
In 1994, she drafted a position paper which she shared with the 15 [M = 202!] other tenured, female, faculty in the MIT School of Science [including Sally "Prochlorococcus" Chisholm - prev] and Lisa "immunity" Steiner prev]. They were a) impressed b) pissed and signed a letter to the MIT President setting out their stall and, by implication, demanding redress. Committees were set up, affirmative action was applied and 20 years later the ratio of tenured female faculty had doubled from 7% to . . . 15%. Full story. A lot done, a lot still to do!. This story gave me an inordinate hand-clapping sense of joy when I first heard it. You can sit on your hands and moan or you can stand up and start counting.

More Women in Science.

Friday 13 August 2021

Sweeter sweetener

Tuning into MetaFilter last week, I was brought to realise that "no added sugar" is not the same as green grow the rushes O "natural". The worried well asking about the safety status of food is A Thing on MeFi: {I left the chicken out on the counter last night | this cheese is beyond its sell-by | the dog ate only half the salmon}. . . should I ate it. The hive-mind (top heavy with USians) tends to be more leery about risk and less concerned about food-waste than, say, me. This Spring, a neighbour cleared out their dodgy freezer before going foreign for a while and I got a gallimaufry of frozen convenience food. I ate the last two salt and chili chicken burgers 7 days ago and they stayed down. Now I could have left these horrors out for the magpies but I reckoned that as Top Level Carnivore TLC hereabouts, I took precedence. All that remains is 3 loaves of beige sliced gluten-free "bread".

Concerning the Del Monte bb 11Apr20 canned peaches, I was sure they'd not deliver any coliforms let alone botulismus, and was about to give [FFS] appro. But others before me had twigged the “No Sugar Added” and balked: "ya wanna to be careful about old sucralose it tastes glaaark". What a difference an "al" makes as the spot the difference picture [R] reveals: top is the natural disaccharide white granulated sucrose the bottom is 1,6-Dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-β-D-fructofuranosyl-4-chloro-4-deoxy-α-D-galactose or sucralose. I've flagged the chlorine atoms which replace the -OH groups in three places.

This adulteration has two effects
a) it over-stimulates the taste receptors on the tongue making sucralose about 500x sweeter than sucrose
b) it bamboozles sucrase the enzyme which normally breaks sucrose into its constituent fructose and glucose. This allows sucralose to pass through the digestive tract unmetabolised and so taking its calories away unused. 
There are hints and assertions that sucralose fails to satisfy something in the brain and leads to a craving for other calorie rich foods. Maybe like aspartame affecting the microbiome.

Sucralose was discovered in the lab of Les Hough at Queen Elizabeth College, London in 1976 as part of a project sponsored by Tate & Lyle the sugar megacorp. T&L had access to hella quantities of sugar which was sold retail at €1/kg. They wanted to know if value could be added to the raw material so it could be sold higher up the economic ladder; not necessarily as food. Riaz Khan, a previous student of Hough's, was working for T&L. He phoned his old boss to ask for a sample of a chlorinated sugar. Hough was busy so handed the phone to Shashikant Phadnis, a younger more available research chemist. Khan said he wanted to test the compound which the lab had just purified. Phadnis heard this as taste the white powder and - the thought being the deed - dipped a small spatula into the powder and applied it to his tongue; finding a tiny amount to be  super sweet. By the time Hough returned to the lab, Phadnis had taste-tested all the vials in the lab finding many of them sweet and some sweeter than others! The first compound was thereafter called serendipitose. Don't do this at home kids . . . only in the lab.

Patent number: 4435440 "A method of sweetening a substance comprises incorporating therein a mono- or poly- chloro, mono- or poly- deoxy sucrose derivative having chlorine atoms . . ." is held by Leslie Hough, Shashikant P. Phadnis, Riaz A. Khan, Michael R. Jenner [Khan's boss] but vested in Tate and Lyle. Sucralose is marketed as Splenda.

YMMV but this reminds me of "I said take care of him not f*ing TAKE CARE OF HIM!"

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Dishtub? WTF?

 It's a washing-up bowl! Where I "do the wup". People have been washing dishes since we moved on from dobbing out portions onto banana leaves. If you don't clean the dishes, the dog will; and absent a dog the plates will get crufty, crusty and thicker than they need to be. I grew up in a three sib home so the tasks were: Alice to clear; Bob to wash; Cecil to dry; Alice to put away. If my Sailor Dad was present andif it was Sunday, he would wash the dishes. We, his minions would pass the obvious dish-wash failures behind his back for another go-thtough; so as not to hurt his feelings. You will notice that there was no Derek to rinse so that didn't get done. Not rinsing the dishes was/is really common in England and it's kinda gross to my present sensibilities. I didn't learn about rinsing until I went to the USA as a 20-something.
flatware = silverware = cutlery
china = crockery = delft = dishes 

Ten years later, we were back in Ireland. The Beloved secured a training gig in Birmingham which required regular overnights in a Brummy B&B. She got pally with the owners, who shared that they had no tea towels. Because the Tourist Board decided that tea-towels were a potential fomite, to get their seal of approval, you had to show the inspector a dish-draining rack. Shortly thereafter I bought a robust triple decker plastic-dipped wire dish rack which screwed onto the wall over the draining board - feckin' bri'nt! You can see half the drip-tray of this machine behind the tap in the picture of Dau.I learning her craft in the last century [R].

One of the agreements nailed down very shortly after my parents married in 1950 was that the wup would never be left until the morning. I suspect that was a rather one-sided contract . . . except on Sundays, like.

Recently on Metafilter, someone tapped into the hive-mind to ask "What is the right way to hand wash dishes?"  This is my jam! It's like the answer to
Q Do you have a dishwasher?
A Yes, his name is Bob
Dishwashing machines are by no means universal in Ireland!  Anyway, here is my answer:

We live remote with a septic tank and drain field. Moi le plongeur is scrupulous about minimising fats and oils going down there. A neighbour had to dig up his drive and the pipework to deal with their fatberg. Two sheets of TP will absorb a lot and make good firelighters after. We have a double sink.

  1. I start running hot water into a plastic wup bowl containing a squirt of dish-soap; glasses get washed first because they deserve a hot-water rinse in the hot tap water.
  2. Cutlery gets dumped in next to soak
  3. Cups & side-plates get dumped on top and washed with a brush and fingers
  4. They get rinsed in cold water in the other sink 
  5. Left to dry on a double-decker wire drainer
  6. Cutlery next
  7. Dinner & dessert plates next
  8. Pans last.
  9. Wup basin water, esp if potentially fatty, tends to get fired out the kitchen door in a satisfyingly medieval way.

If we have company, and more dishes, I stop when the drainer is full and have another session later.

Never, no matter how drunk, leave the dishes till morning

There is no way I use 20 gallons / 90 lt of water.

On dit que handwashing dishes consumes that amount of water while a dishwashing machine uses only 5 gallons = 20 lt. According to the MeFi discussion there are people who rinse dishes under a tap running cleaned drinking water straight to the septic system. For them favelas / townships / barrios are something you see on the National Geographic channel.

Monday 9 August 2021

Ariadne auf Portesmuða

 In 1960 when I was ~6, I lived for a year in the “Captain’s House, HMS Verno, Potmouth” which tells you that my spelinge was as shockin’ poor as my hand-writing. HMS Vernon, Portsmouth is now a shopping centre but in 1960 it was part of the Royal Navy. It was a Shore Establishment where they trained sailors – both officers and men – in the fine art of mine-sweeping. My father, was the Top Dog at HMS Vernon. We’d occasionally be walking in his company through his domain. He had his peculiarities, my Dad, and he hated to see flags wrapped round flag-poles, especially if wet and sticky. They had to be either a) flapping brightly in the breeze or b) hanging limp beside the flag-staff if there was no wind. English weather is a mix of wind, rain, calm and occasional sunshine. If he saw a rain-wet flag clagged up against or around the pole he’d shout at the nearest fellow in a uniform to “Clear that flag”. The poor sailor had to work out what would please the cross-sounding 👿 who was on his case. Usually, this required hauling down the flag, resetting it at the mast-head, and hoping The Old man would go away; at least until the poor squaddie was somewhere else – preferably in the canteen, out of the rain, having a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Right opposite the door to our house was a double-life-size figurehead salvaged from the bows of HMS Ariadne when that 19thC 26-gun frigate had finally been sent to the breaker’s yard in 1922. She looked a lot brighter in colour. The grassy area behind the figurehead is where I learned to ride a bicycle. It’s better to learn to ride on a road than on grass because staying upright depends upon inertia and going fast and it’s easier to get up to speed if the surface isn’t slippy and buckety.

Q. Why would you call a ship Ariadne?
A. Because Ariadne is famous in tale and story.

I used this as an introduction to a tall tale of Antient Crete which I wrote last month for Gdau.I: The Ariadne story needs an upgrade and she also needs a couple of sidekicks as supporting actors and choru♪. Somebody has to make the tea!

It turns out that HMS Ariadne is not just another work-a-day naval vessel after she was launched at Deptford in 1859. In June 1872, at Gibraltar, a sailor fell off the mast in a gale and the captain hove-to in order to affect a rescue. After a fruitless search, the cutter was recalled but broached to and was swamped. A second boat was launched to rescue the rescuers but one of the falls fouled when this craft hit the water and tipped the whole of that crew into the drink. The thing about launching boats from davits is that it requires excellent training and precise timing to release the boat at both ends simultaneously . . . even if there is a full gale blowing and a frightful sea running. All told 11 sailors perished that morning. Attention was drawn, in the letters pages of The Times, that nobody was wearing life-jackets. Also noted was there was a solution to the falls fouling in the form of a patent release-mechanism developed years before After a similar tragedy, the late Mr. C. Clifford, who had long bestowed the most earnest attention to the subject, perfected an exceedingly simple and efficient method of lowering a ship's boats in a few seconds, irrespective of the weight or size of the boat, or whether laden with its full crew or containing only one man. The lowering could be accomplished, too, and by a lad, just as easily whether the vessel were at anchor in a harbour or under a full press of sail or steam, and in a heavy sea. Regrettably, the Admiralty had not mandated this nifty piece of kit throughout the fleet.  Riding a bicycle is not the only thing involving inertia!

Sunday 8 August 2021

Mixum gatherum

All over the world

Friday 6 August 2021

St Martin of Island

 I've been a bit of a fan of St Martin of Tours for his cloak sharing ways. And I've found all things Nederlands gezellig since I spent the Summer of '76 in Wageningen, watching the Tour de France, doing some ornithology, and learning the rudiments of the language. And here is the Venn diagram intersection between those two threads in my life's tapestry:

The island of San Martin was discovered by Cristóbal Colón a genocidal slaver and racist in the employ of Los Reyes Católicos Fernando II de Aragón & Isabel I de Castilla. Actually, the 11 November 1493 anchorage, which sheltered the ships of Columbus was probably Nevis but geolocation was sketchy enough in those days that the St Martin's Day island drifted north and attached itself to the Leeward Island of which we treat. And just so you know where everything is. The Leewards are (for NW to SE):

  • Virgin Islands 
  • Anguilla 
  • Saint Martin/Sint Maarten 
  • Saint-Barthélemy St Barts
  • Saba 
  • Sint Eustatius 
  • Saint Kitts 
  • Nevis
  • Barbuda 
  • Antigua
  • Montserrat 
  • Guadeloupe 

                        The French and the Nederlanders have been sharing the island as a condominium for nearly 400 years and the border took about half that time to settle into the current 60:40 split. Because both parts of the island are constituent parts of their European motherships, the grens/frontière has become an enigmatic pub-quiz question because for most of political space Belgium elbows between the two countries. Whereas in the Caribbean you can stroll across the border without your passport. If you want an actual condominium on the island, you'll need more than $1,000,000 . . . unless you want to be cheap. Cheap thrills? As far as youtube is concerned the only thing worth doing on the island is getting blasted by partly burned aviation kerosene where the airport fence meets the beach. 

                        The two endemic species Calyptranthes boldinghgii a Fuchsia-like shrubbery & Galactia nummelaria, a legume are both probably extinct. The white sandy beaches depend upon seagrasses like Paddle Grass (Halophila decipiens), Manatee Grass (Syringodium filiforme) and especially, Turtle Grass (Thalassia testudinum) to stabilise the offshore seabed [prev elsewhere] in hurricane season and the mangroves are fighting a rearguard action against the demands of yachties for more anchorage. 

                        Island Index

                        Thursday 5 August 2021

                        Go to goaty

                        Friends [home-ed, Birkenstocks, rice-cakes, GIY] of ours kept goats when their kids were small. The milk was acceptable so long as it was super fresh and cold. After a day or two, even in the fridge, the girls would screw up their faces at the whiff. That same child-challenging aroma is what makes goat cheeses an interesting addition to the cheese-board. There are three medium-chain fatty acids whose name is derived from Capra hircus. Fatty / carboxylic acids all have a carboxyl COOH group at one end which is quite reactive and dietary "fat" typically attaches the COOH to glycerol leaving a chain of hydrocarbon hanging off the end. 

                        • capric acid aka decanoic acid has ten carbons [MP 31°C]
                        • caprylic acid = chain 8 C long [MP 16°C]
                        • caproic acid = chain 6 C long [MP -4°C]

                        All three of these goaty fatty acids are "saturated" - all the carbons are fully charged with hydrogens. Saturation and length both contribute to solidifying the acids and their compounds. The melting points in the list above imply a linear relationship between chain length and MP, but it's more complicated than that with acetic acid being solid at roomish temperature. Unsaturated fats have double bonds between some of the carbons making them a bit more flexible and less viscous. For completeness, I've mentioned SCFAs in a takedown about the number of diets which depend more on assertion than evidence. SCFAs have fewer carbons in the side chain: formic C; acetic CC; proprionic CCC; butyric CCCC [as in butter]; valeric CCCCC.

                        Mammal milk is widely different in fat content, let alone exactly what fatty acids are present, and there is some evidence that MCFAs are anti-fungal and/or pre-biotic - encouraging the growth of good gut bacteria. Capric acid is also found in plants; especially coconut [10%].  If you have a well-trained microbiome, then high fibre diets will naturally ferment to produce a) SCFAs and b) gas. If you are a) 12 years old b) a boy it is therefore acceptable to talk about short chain farty acids. Note kids are adorable.

                        Wednesday 4 August 2021

                        The Earth moved

                        Last weekend, What3Words, a cunning geolocating scheme which divides the whole surface of the blue planet into 57 trillion [5.7 x10^13] squares about the size of a carpet [3m x 3m], loomed over my event-horizon and I shared the coordinates of our front door with the family. I got there by entering our Eircode on the W3W search map. As I've said before, my whole life - or the bits that I can remember - is recorded in The Blob. I try to not repeat exactly the same anecdote at different times. So I searched the Blob archive having more or less forgotten that I'd been there/here before: three years ago, I was all excitey about W3W and I reported then that you could find me at provide.deluxe.interlude. But that's not where we live, unless I'm slinging a hammock between two bay-trees in our back-garden.:

                        The red square is provide.deluxe.interlude, which AFAIR was nearest our front door in 2018. Somehow the W3W grid has shifted about 20m north w.r.t. Google maps in the 40 months since I last checked.  That sounds a lot but note that the North magnetic pole is sprinting across the globe at a rate of 50km/year. In my youth it was shimmying about among Canada's Arctic Island, but in 2019 it grazed the actual North Pole and is now in the process of defecting to mother Russia. 

                        Mais revenons à nos moutons Irlandaises - you can see six of the them grazing in our haggard. If we kept better records [as required by our masters in the Dept Agriculture, hmmmm], we'd be able to pin-point the week when the "CNES Airbus Maxar Technologies" satellite snapped a pic of our property without asking permission. It is amazing the resolution achieved and the Terabyte load must be such a weight on The Cloud as to induce rain. If I'd had notice, I would have waved or mowed a greeting in the lawn.  Of course, I went off stalking all my friends-and-relations but the pixel quality of their gaffs were nowhere near as crisp as ours.

                        Now here's another discrepancy. In March and April this year, I was fossicking about on the far side of our commonage trying to reconcile several sources of cartographic data including Barry Dalby's 1:25,000 map and with the actual landscape under my feet. Dalby has chosen to exclude all political boundaries [county, parish, townland] from his map but has captured tracks, drains and ditches which are almost invisible from eye-level. A bold black line trending north appears on Dalby's map which I found to be a straight line depression which is rather greener, because wetter, than the surrounding heathland. My hypothesis was that this was a) the work of sleán and human arm b) a sort of Offa's Dyke demarcating the county line back in the days when such things mattered. But on the W3W map [R], the County line is offset two squares to the East of the shadowed line of the dyke / drain / ditch or . . . about 20m N if you choose to superimpose the lines in that way. Same as our front door.

                        One supercool advantage of W3W over Eircodes for geolocating in Ireland is that Eircodes only recognise premises - homes and businesses with a roof, like. Not much good if your car breaks down and there are no houses visible. In February last year four hopelessly under-clothed tourists were located and carried off the flanks of Ben Nevis in a blizzard. They were fortunate to a) have gotten a signal in that benighted spot b) had the W3W app installed and so were able to communicate their location +/- 3m [or 20m?] to the mountain rescue team. Eircodes / UK postcodes would have been much less use there than a proper hat and gloves.

                        Monday 2 August 2021

                        The World is a doughnut.

                        Thirty years ago economist Richard Dowthwaite published a book with a great title The Growth Illusion; so great that I went off and bought a copy. In 1991, we really hadn't a clue; we'd just got off the boat from England; and I had just started in a new field under a boss with exacting high standards. Having watched the 1984 Miner's Strike from the sidelines and not bought shares in British Telecom, I knew there was something wrong about the economic model which was being embraced in these WEA islands: the market is king; there is no such thing as society. I guess I hoped Douthwaite would put structure on my inchoate concerns about GDP growth vs a finite planet. Massive fail: I just couldn't get past about p.5 it was so dull and alienating. I must have given my copy of The Growth Illusion away because it is no longer glaring down at me reproachfully from the bookshelf.  The seed was ready but the soil was stony. 20thC economists thought economies were circular [R]:the main driver was the upper cycle: workers would get up in the morning  and clock-in for wages. At the weekend they'd buy stuff to sustain the factories and boutiques and cinemas which were employing them. 

                        With a pinch of desperation, last week I downloaded Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist by Kate Raworth from Borrowbox. This is much better as an analysis of what's wrong with Capitalism and where we might go next . . . or maybe I've grown up enough to understand what it means. Raworth identifies two elephants on this economic merry-go-round a) The engine is missing: the energy [black gold] and natural resources from which goods are made are treated as infinite and available. b) Who makes the toast and washes the dishes - and the shirts, the car and the front stoop? The worker with his labour and his lunch-pail needs the invisible [unpaid anyway] support of his family. Yes yes pronoun alert: but still 73 years after the publication Paul Samuelson's Economics the worker is male and he's gorra wife,  We hear a lot about the squeezed middle: the productive backbone of society who are too rich to get a medical card but too poor to afford private health insurance. Raworth's economy is squeezed between the demands of people for a bright plastic basin to wash the dishes in [and the water to suds with] and the now suddenly finite resources of spaceship Gaia:

                        Raworth's economy is subtitled a safe and just space for humanity. The Market economy is quite happy to have emaciated kids rivetting eyelets onto Nike trainers because those kids are prepared to work for $2 a day. If it wasn't enough, they'd withhold their labour. Which works for academic economists: if they don't like Harvard they can move to Yale. For that kid in Indonesia, Nike may be the only gig in town . . . apart from prostitution or grubbing a living from a cassava garden.

                        There are four players in the Doughnut Economy: households [paid and unpaid]; the Market; the Commons; and Government. I've written about the Commons and how Garrett Hardin associated them - for all time- with tragedy. Some player would always try to put one more sheep on the common and the whole system would collapse dry up and blow away in a dust-storm. Not so fast, says Kate Raworth, for her the Commons are the glue of society all the things we do together without pausing to think if they are monetizable: busking, campaigning, Fortnite, peregrination, elder-care, after-school, adopting an unfluffy endangered species, starting a soup kitchen. We're on the planet for maybe 80 years, we'd better make the best of it. Reframing our existence from being a wage-slave to Capital to an equal contributing part of our community is a good place to start. contra Thatcher, the is such a thing as society: it's where I go drumming

                        Sunday 1 August 2021

                        Doggerland and other

                        When we lived in Boston in the 80s an occasional treat was to go to Friendly's and knock off a Very Berry Hot Fudge Sundae. We didn't stop doing it after we surprised to have a cockroach skitter across the counter-top as we waited for service . . . because that was our 'normal' at home. The management of the apartment complex never seemed to be able to get on top of the vermin.