Monday 30 January 2023

Stamps incomming

Postage for 100g letter to Ireland is €1.25, for the rest of the World it's €2.25!  No wonder nobody writes letters. And of course the two observations are linked in a death spiral. If there was no e-mail and a stamp cost 20c, I daresay Pete the Post would come up our lane more often.  The €1.25 I pay to send a postcard to Galway carries a lot of sorters and supervisors and the Galway equivalent to Pete. One fall-out of the situation is that philately is dead. My collection of mammal stamps has no market.

In early January, just in time for the Orthodox Christmas, but two weeks late for ours, I got a letter from Vladivostok. It was not unexpected, because my old correspondent Сергей Sergey had emailed me in  November for a street address. You have to imagine how the envelope got so beat up. The stamps are all scrorched, that's for sure. I think someone must have left a mailbag out in the rain, or maybe it fell into the sea when some Russian postal worker tried lobbing it onto the last ship leaving port. Ho hum, it's the thought that counts. The news - that Серг is also retired - could fly by internet; but there's something of old style courtesy in sending a card halfway round the world . . . because we both worked in the same field in the last century. More letters, with stamps, are needed.

Saturday 28 January 2023

Comet, green, can be seen

Trying for faint astronobjects in Ireland-of-the-drizzles is a big ask but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Green-tailed Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) hasn't gotten a common name yet - because the last time it was visible, 50,000 years ago, human astronomers were banging two rocks together. I've done some work to increase the likelihood that you'll catch this one. Base picture from TheSkyLive. Annotated by moi to show the ?familiar? Big and Little Dipper in the NE sky:

We tried to see this object on Thursday 26Jan night after a clear and sunny late afternoon, but by 19:00 the stars were winking out one by one as wispy clouds obscured the sky. By 21:00 we couldn't even see the moon: bracketted by Mars above and Jupiter below. Last night, Fri 27Jan23, I was out again several times, knowing exactly where to look. βUmi and  γUma, the two bright adjacent stars of Ursa Minor were visible but, of C/2022 E3: zonders, zilch, zero. I have now discovered that, kneeling down and craning up, I can see Ursa Minor out of the tiny landing window at the back of our house. So I don't have to stumble in the dark up the steps to the garden on spec. Bring back Comet Hale-Bopp, I say, C/1995 O1 was defo visible in the Spring of 1997 as we waited for the builders to move out of our home, so we could move in.

Polaris, the Pole Star, is formally called αUmi [the brightest star in Ursa Minor]. wrt the fixed stars, the Comet is moving "up" the night sky at about 3° a day and will be closest to Earth [and most visible?] on St Bridget's Day = Lá Fhéile Bríde 1st February. But don't wait for the brightest night, go for a possible = clear-sky night between now and mid-Feb. Binocks, even crappy ones, will help, but a crystal clear sky will help better. And city folks should endeavour to leave the street-lights behind and find somewhere dark. Good luck.

Friday 27 January 2023

Old Crockern disposes

We live on the edge of a rolling upland mostly comprised of dry heath with plenty of boggy bits to give you wet socks if you like that sort of thing. In a technical sense we own a chunk of those uplands - in  common with our neighbours. But I can assure you that I don't go up in jodhpurs and instruct walkers and birdwatchers to get orf my laaannd. Although I get tetchy when visitors leave tinkle-tissue behind, there is conspicuously little litter or other evidence that hundreds of ordinary folk yomp about our hills every year. Even on a busy weekend, it's easy to be out of earshot of everyone else, get some fresh air and exercise, and generally recharge the batteries.

On the weekend of 21st Jan 2023, some 3,000 people rallied to Dartmoor to protest that their right to camp wild on Dartmoor had been curtailed by a recent court case. Millionaire Alexander Darwall, hedge-funder and pantomime villain, b[r]ought his lawyers to court to make people ask his permission to camp on the 4,000 acre 1,600ha. estate he acquired in  2011. He reckons that scruffies disturb the pheasants and deer which he and his rich pals / clients like to blast away at in real life; having exhausted the delights of killing communists in video-games. Wild-camping? This sort of thing. [bloboprev]

Vox.Pop [9 mins]from PoliticsJoe. Some of the scruffies invoked Old Crockern, a troll which / who is said to live under Crockern Tor, a granite hillock in the middle of the moor. O.C. saw off an earlier interloping land-owner who tried to make money out of his investment:
"If he scratches my back, I'll tear out his pocket."
Despite being a land-owner, I'm with the wild-campers. As should be Darwall: one way to stave off a bloody revolution is to allow poor people a little recreational fresh air at the weekends so that they work better at the mills of Capital the following Monday. Mass trespass has a long and honorable history in the UK: it's 91 years since the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of April 1932. In Finland Jokamiehen oikeudet allows people to access the countryside respectfully. More comment and context on Metafilter.

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Up the Broad Arrow

My pal Russ from Tidesntales was allowed out of the Déise on day release in New Ross. There must have been pressing business to stop in the most depressing town in Ireland. With the new Kennedy-Fitzgerald Bridge, you don't even need to pass through the town to get to somewhere brighter and more appealing. I know Russ was there because he tweeted a picture of a surveyor's broad arrow ⇱ on the edge of the quay: "Spotted this while out exploring New Ross #Wexford yesterday, it's on the town side of the old bridge. It seems to be a crows foot, or map makers benchmark, but any I've seen tend to be vertical against a wall, whereas this is lying flat on the quayside". We drove through Ross recently because I needed fresh yeast from the  Polski Sklep  [shout-out] on the far side of the bridge. It's only fair to state that the town is much brighter from some gable-end murals; and cleaning up and re-purposing the derelict site of the burned down Royal Hotel.

So what about OS Broad Arrows - are they all vertical? Is the one in New Ross unique in having an exhausted lie-down?? I am now pushed to show a third option: broad arrows on a bit of a slope. It is up on the hill behind us and found by Martina and Dec from Wexford. It is really hidden in plain site. I yomped up the hill immediately on getting the news but couldn't see it although, because of another extremely local distinctive petroglyph, I knew I was in the right spot.

Part of the visibility problem was that, like Russ, I was assuming the benchmark would be vertical and on the edge of the roadway. But it's not: it is on a canted rock that is part of the road bed. Here it is:

What? Where?? Answers below the fold.

Monday 23 January 2023

Brownian euro-motion

Brownian motion is what you see down a microscope observing pollen-grains suspended in water  - the pollen doesn't stay still but appear to jink about the field of view in a random fashion. Crazy Russian Hacker shows that the speed of particle movement is dependent on the temperature of the water. In 1905, the 26 y.o. Einstein showed that the phenomenon was due to water molecules slamming into the larger particle fast enough to shift it.

Dau.II and I were driving back from Tramore a few days ago and fell to talking about random movements of individual € coins. This was triggered by needing €2 for the Waterford Toll Bridge and the navigator idly rootling through the car's toll, parking and trolley-lock coin bag. Which country has "Lëitzbuerg" and which "LIETUVA" and which a double cross [see L] on the reverse of their coins?  The chances are that all those questions are "from foreign" to you, so you can be expected not to know the answers. But here's another task for which we predicted a massive fail: draw from memory the reverse of the 10c coin from your own country. TIL that drawing coins from memory is a trope in psychological research.

After musing on how interesting it would be to track a single coin from the mint to being irretrievably lost over the rail of a cross-channel ferry the next question was "What is the probability that such a coin would pass through my hands twice?".  She's asked such questions before and her nibling has taken up cudgels more recently.

The answer to this question is materially affected by whether the time-frame for the experiment includes The Before Times when people used cash on the reg'lar; rather than post-pandemic when use of <arrrgh fomite> cash fell off the bottom of the chart. But the answer is much more <?> affected by your position in society. Bob the Patriarch has become quite like Rishi Sunak in never having to pay ready money for anything - tapping and PINing away with plastic abandon. Dau.II otoh spent several years working retail in the catering trade and so handled a lot more cash than me.
How much more? Guessing between 10x and 1,000x more.
Not 100,000x more, though. If I jingled 5 coins in my pocket over a week, a cashier would handle 100,000 coins every day. The working day is 500 minutes long; €1 weighs 7.5g; 200 x 7.5 = 1.5kg a minute seems too much to credit. And a working day moving 100,000 x 7.5g = ¾tonne seems more like a navvy than a cheese-monger.

There are 7.5 x 10^9 [=billion] €1coins in circulation, presumably mostly within the EU which has 450 million ppl on board over the 27 member states. That's about 17 €1 coins each. I've defo got more than my fair share because, in a desultory fashion, I've been filleting out interesting €1s for the last 20 years. Faves: Italy [DaVinci man] and Greece [owl]. 

Now assume that coins circulate randomly across the Eurozone and you handle 1,000 coins a day. What's the likelihood of seeing again a coin you marked earlier with a masonic Square and Compass in invisible ink? Each day you have a 1 in 7.5 million chance. Which is as near as dammit to winning the Irish Lotto. Those calcs only apply to your hot hand. Like the Lotto, somewhere in Europe someone will win the returning-bad-penny prize, pretty much every time the draw is made. 

But actually the €1 coins do not circulate randomly, they stay close to home. Most of the coins in our car-stash are Irish, still . . . after 20 years of stirring and exchanging between Berlin and Ballycotton. It must be the same on smaller scales: on the edges of Europe [like Ballycotton] it seems likely that the same coins tend to stay local. As a thought experiment, let's imagine a pub . . .

The Simplicity Arms only sells pints, they cost €4. Whoever opens up the bar, goes to the bank for a float of 200 x €1 and 200 x €2 coins. Boozers rock up singly or in groups and start buying. Aileen orders a pint, proffers a €5 note and gets €1 in change. Brian and Charlie arrive later and Aileen stands them a drink, paying €12 including the €1 she got earlier in change. Declan the bar-keep is handling that coin for the second time and the pre-theatre crowd hasn't appeared yet. That Euro is going to go back and forth all night never leaving the pub but being handled by several people, some for a second time. The city of Cork is like that pub.

BloboPrev: When we joined the Euro-zone in January 2002, each country was invited to strike its own coins to its own design. Ireland struck 135 million €1s in 2002, compared to 300m in France and just 2,000 from Vatican City. I thought it would be interesting to get 200 €1 coins from the bank every quarter and tally up the provenance. Presumably on day 0 all the coins from Allied Irish Bank would have a harp on the obverse. But as German, Greek and French tourists piled in to buy pints of Guinness with their small change, the All-Irish flavour of the coinage would get diluted. Something could be learned from the circulation of Euro-people from taking snapshots of Euro-coins. I was super busy in 2002 pushing the frontiers of science - so that project never flew.

But it turns out that someone with more money than sense more time and dedication has addressed that interesting social-economic-geographical question. Seems that, over the first 10 Euro-years, the number of foreign coins circulating in France increased steadily from 5% near the beginning to 34% 10 years later.

Sunday 22 January 2023

Links lopen

. . . veilig lopen . . . as the old NL road-safety slogan had it in the 70s: You're safer walking on the left of any roadway because you can see the cars coming at /for you. Unless you live in IE/UK where everyone drives on the wrong minority side of the road. There is more interesting matter on which to focus

Friday 20 January 2023

De Wit's End

One definition of stupidity / insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Five years ago in 2017, we had the whole 3 generation fambly for Christmas. Someone b(r)ought a mighty 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle as an alternative to discussing Kant and Hegel together like real intellectual families. It took an elapsed week, maybe 90 person hours, to put the final piece into place.

This Christmas we were but 4 Effectives but Someone noted that a range of 1500 piece jigsaws was available for €8.99 in ALIDLI and bought two [because ExcessMas]. The conveniently large sheet of plywood used in 2017 has long since been repurposed as a desk-top, so I was tasked to rustle up something flat at least 850mm x 670mm in size. A sheet of 4mm hardboard, trimmed to size, did the trick. Supported by our trusty blue 600 x 600mm rubberwood Ikea coffee-table or tucked under the sofa when insupportable ennui and frustration required the puzzle to be out of sight. Note-to-self: do not put any other weight, such as an elbow, on the projecting corners of the puzzle.

That's a crap photo, up above, on many levels, but at least it illustrates a work-in-progress: so much of the sea is still in pieces. For the sea it's a case of nothing to see here except the lines of lat and long. The picture is a copy of Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula Auctore F. De Wit which has survived in a number of different places including the Greenwich observatory. Bibliographic and other evidence ties Frederick de Wit's Do Date to 1660. That's 4 years before New Amsterdam changed hands to New York; and a whole generation after the Pilgrims landed at Plimouth Rock. So the  coasts of N America are reasonably well annotated but the interior is Terra Incognita. Africa otoh is packed with placenames! Which is peculiar because when Livingstone and Stanley [prev] and Speke and Grant were pushing into the interior of The Dark Continent 200 years later, they really were mapping and recording new data as they progressed into the unknown.

For the Antipodes some dates:

  • 1606 Willem Janszoon N Australia
  • 1616 Dirk Hartog W Australia
  • 1627 François Thijssen S Australia
  • 1642 Abel Tasman Van Diemen's Land and NZ
  • 1770 James Cook E Australia
Mais revenons nous à nos jigsaws! The final piece was installed just before dinnertime on 7th January 2023. It is an exercise not totally without value. It's important interesting to know the date when distant parts of the world were brought to the knowledge of Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or its British equivalents [prev]. That's when you can possibly date the beginning of local Great Extinctions: of language and culture among the indigenous people as well as flora and fauna for museums and cabinets of curiosity back home in Europe. Really, jigsaws are not an efficient use of [my] time -but YMMV: you work away.

Wednesday 18 January 2023

Marmalade Games 2023

My marmalade log book goes back to Jan 2003!  The basic recipe is from Mary McDermot via Delia Smith’s Winter Collection [the book, not the link whc defo didn't exist 20 years ago]. The key to the method is to separate two different chemical processes both involving heat a) boiling the oranges to release their pectin b) boiling the pip/pith-discarded pulp with 2x - 3x sugar to a roiling boil to drive off some water and make the sugar and the pectin stick together.  If your process conflates these two quite different reactions, you risk burning the sugar and/or having a very dark set to the marmalade.

The last ten years of my marmalade journey are record in The Blob. In 2020 we were super late because my mother died in peak marmalade season, but it was worth the wait because we shared the work with some other marmaficianados. In 2021 otoh, at peak lock-down II, I had to soldier on; all alone; with nobody to do even a cold-plate test. That generated a mighty marmalade surplus, so there was none made in 2022. But reserves were looking depleted in the bunker this winter and I was persuaded to get my apron on again. Shout out to Brendan Walsh, fruit whole-sale in Slieverue [X91 FR84] North Waterford who sold me a flat of Seville's for €26 cash. There were 102 Sevilles in the box and it transpires that the 2 possible pans for our process a) [above] take 26 Os and 4 pints of water.

Starting at 07:00hrs, on two separate days in mid January I loaded up the Pectin Release Pans PRPs, and set them to boil-then-simmer for 3 hours. That's easy work. The hardship comes later when the piping hot fruit is split in half [ooo ooo aaa aaa AAAA*] and the pulp scooped from the peel. The glop is forced through a muslin or, better, a conical sieve; sugar is added at the rate of 1kg to 1 pint of glop; the minced peel is thrown thereto and process b) rolling boil is started [see L]. Because of the 3 hours of no intervention needed earlier this last cook takes only 15-20 minutes. It needs some attention, lest it boils over in a lethal sputtering lava-flow and/or it burns on the bottom of the jam-pan. 

Jam cook-books say that you can predict whether the mix will set by dobbing some out on a cold plate and seeing if it stops running or crinkles at the edges if poked with a finger. But actually, we [re?]discovered this year, that you can tell by the sound of the boiling jam. When the mix comes initially to the boil, it is very fizzy and this is when overflow accidents are most likely to occur. Is that because, the gas dissolves in the water is being forced out of solution? Later, the sound turns to a deeper BLUP . . . BLUP and that's when the mix will pass the cold plate test and, in due course, set in the jar.

Set in the jar, is it. The picture [R] shows the fruits of our labour over the 3rd batch batch of [26 x minced peels; 2.8 kg glop; 4.0 kg sugar]. 18 miscellaneous-sized jars of 2023 Goldiloxian [not too bright; not too sweet; just right] marmalade. The jar in the fore-ground is designated for soon consumption because I didn't oven-sterilize enough jam-jars and we had to recruit a jar cold from the recycle box to take the last dribble from the jam-pan.

Did I say, Third Batch? I did! We now have a convenient 52 jars of vintage 2023 marmalade. Enough for +2 years at the rate we consume the stuff . . . assuming, erroneously, that we won't be giving any away. And we still have a baker's dozen of oranges still in the skin. They'll keep until we get the energy for another session in the marmalade foundry.

* Two monkeys in the bath. One goes "ooo ooo aaa aaa AAAA!". The other say "If it's too hot, mate, you can run some cold water in".

Monday 16 January 2023

Arise St Fursey!

You can't expect to catch a romantic sunrise on any day in mid-January in Ireland. It is nearly 2 years since I discovered that a petroglyph, the work of human hand, on a flattish glacial erratic, probably not the work of human hand, was oriented towards the point of the horizon where the sun rises on St Fursey's Day. Huzzah! that would be today! Last year the weather crapped out on Furseyites in the Sunny South East and I couldn't see 100m, let alone the horizon.

It was wonderful to be out and about before the sun rises. There were 2° of frost, which dried up the puddles and made the surface of the path up to the Giant's Table a little less boggy. Positively warm compared to my accompanying audiobook [An Unsung Hero by Michael Smith] which had Tom Crean and two others racing plodding stumbling for their lives down the Beardmore Glacier in January 1912 in 20° of frost. 

Anyway, you see above the evidence that the sun rose today, that I was there to witness, that life is good. Lá Feile Fursa!!

Sunday 15 January 2023

Last refuge of a scoundrel

 . . . is, like, patriotism - according to Dictionary Johnson [whom prev]. I was induced to think about it because of a Mefi thread about what constitutes un-Australian attitudes and actions. Seekers know what I am an Australian is about. And the kids buy in.

Needless to say, for the majority of MeFites, the Pacific is Big and Australia is on the far side, so the discussion chimed in with USian and Canadian manifestations of Patriot Games. I've cited John Cena's inclusive America before: it's interesting because his monologue brings atypical Americans to the fore and suggests that they, too, are essential cogs in the ship of state and require the respect of The Majority. Obvs, I like it also because he lurries out some counts [to the nearest million] of various groups: Lesbians vs Virginians; mothers vs soldiers etc.

Elsewhere in the thread, someone cites a series of funny ads for Molson reflecting on who claims I am Canadian. In the shadow of the great francophonie ~22% v Anglo 75% dichotomy there are A Lot of other languages spoken in family kitchens when nobody is looking: Mandarin, Gujarati, Inuktitut . . . Not knowing all the words of O Canada doesn't make you unCanadian is one of the messages. And really let's cry nonsense on Citizenship tests everywhere that require immigrants to know the deputy leader of the opposition in parliament or some other University Challenge variety of cultural imperialism. 

This all made ponder on performative patriotism in Ireland and language. Much political hay is made of Irish being the primary language of the state, and its constitution, despite being spoke fluently by only a tiny minority of citizens, let alone residents - who can ex officio be citizens of any country in the EU.  The national anthem The Soldier's Song was written, in English, by Peadar Kearney, at Christmastime in 1909. It wasn't until after the Easter Rising in 1916 that Liam Ó Rinn translated it as Amhrán na bhFiann keeping the same tu♬e, of course. One of the most wonderful things about Ireland in the 21stC is existence of polskie sklepy  all over the country and all the other manifestations of cultural diversity, choice and multiplicity of ideas, foods, songs and dances. 

It occurred to me that some enterprising inclusionist from the Department of Foreign Affairs or Arts Culture and the Gaeltacht might have translated The Soldier's Song into Polish seeing as it is, by numbers, the second language of the Republic. Seemingly not: you can get Polish subtitles but no Polish poet has been commissioned to make version that is stirring not stilted. Shame really, because like the Latin mass, if you don't understand what the words mean it is hard to get on board with the concepts. Although the concepts in the lyrics are a bit dated? . . .come woe or weal / 'mid cannons' roar and rifles peal. Whatever about Polish, at least 9 people are agreed about what the lyrics are in ISL [R].

The Chinese government doesn't want their citizens to get too literal about the National Anthem: "Rise up, people who don't want to be slaves." struck an awkward and censored note during the persistent Covid lockdowns in the PRC.

Friday 13 January 2023

Let them eat paint

 "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" probably not said by Reine Marie-Antoinette on hearing that the peasants had no bread.

Today's deep dive is all about Ilmenite a titanium-rich mineral named for a deposit in the Ильменские горы Ilmensky Mountains in Central Russia. But priority for discovery probably goes to William Gregor as a black-sand placer deposit in Macannan in Cornwall.  Macannanite is another name for this mineral. Placer [pron. plasser] deposits will be familiar to Dan Hurd of Dan Hurd Prospecting groupies [prev] as they follow him  up the Fraser River in BC looking for gold. One of his clues for a rich source is to find heavy black hematite FeO3 sand while gold-panning: gold is also heavy and will get sorted with hematite by the action of the river.

Like most minerals, Ilmenite was totally new to me until Joe Franta's [prev carrying wheat] bulk-carrier was sent to Dakar to pick a load of the material for transport to Norway. Why Norway? Because that is/was another source location for Ilmenite and they have the infrastructure to process the stuff there. Sunny Joe was a bit pissed off because Senegal Ilmenite is dusty and he was going to have to sweep up the thick coating of black residue from the decks a) after leaving Dakar b) after delivering in Norway. You can see the dust [above] on the froward = loaded part of the deck; as well as open hatch covers in the foreground and a nifty moveable conveyor-belt about to deliver More sand. Sunny Joe is happy because Ilmenite packs heavy [it's the density innit?] so they can only fill the holds part-full.

The black sand is strip-mined in the Senegal interior by Grande Côte Operations (GCO) to produce ilmenite and zircon. There is a follow-the-money connexion between GCO and Norway, while the umbrella body appears to be French megacorp Eramet.

Ilmenite is essentially hematite with some of the iron replaced by titanium: FeTiO3. In some deposits titanium is displaced by manganese Mn and magnesium Mg. But the company's geologists want deposits with as much titanium as possible because Ilmenite supplies about 50% of the world titanium dioxide TiO2, and that is a key material for some key products in late-stage capitalism: paint, sunscreen and food. TiO2 is a bright-white solid, insoluble in water, and capable of blocking UV radiation. About 9 million tonnes of it enters the supply chain each year. In the food industry it's known as E171 and the EU no longer allows it in the food chain. You're good to go in the UK, though! One of the take back control benefits of Brexit is that you can still get sunscreen in your royal icing, soups, broths, sauces, salads, sandwich spreads, chewing gum.

Likewise,  there is no real alternative to TiO2 in paint, and EU regulations since 2021 require producers to carry a "may cause cancer" label. RAW paints from Nederland claims to supply TiO2-free paint - it is not clear what's in that stuff, though.

Now here's a problem: Dan Hurd, gold prospecting in British Columbia relies on the Spring flood-waters of the Fraser to sift the mineral deposits in the river bed and along the banks. Gold and black-sand sinks to the bottom of the maelstrom and lighter material gets swept away to the ocean. In Senegal, the case is altered. Near the town of Diogo, GCO has "A wet concentration plant where mineral sands, ordinary sand and water are separated" which being interpreted is that sand is scooped up from the earth; then water is whooshed over it to act as a proxy for the Fraser's glacial snow melt. The water is sourced locally and there is a direct Water Wars conflict of interest between Eramet megacorp and indigenous vegetable growers. The water table has slumped from 5m to 12m and farmers fear that water abstraction by the company will only make it worse. The company promised a local hospital, a new well, and youth training followed by jobs on the mine. Few of these promises have been met and the youth are drifting off to Dakar for an uncertain future as cab-drivers and at-will dockers. But at least we have paint!

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Hans Land Border

It's been 8½ years since we looked at the Whiskey War between the sovereign nations of Denmark and Canada over the 130 hectares of Île Hans Ø = Tartupaluk in the Nares Strait between the extreme N of Greenland and Nunavut. The strait is 35km wide, folks travel, hunt and fish here, oil might be discovered so everyone needs to know where they are and in which jurisdiction their kayak floats. For two civilised nations, not currently at war, and both members of NATO, surveying the mid-line of the strait was easy . . . except for Hans Island: plunk in the middle of the fairway. Both sides claimed sovereignty of this barren lump of Silurian limestone. Nationalist sentiment would periodically surface in the press in Copenhagen or Ottawa or more likely Nuuk [pop 18,800] or Iqaluit [pop 7,500], the provincial capitols of Greenland & Nunavut respectively. An expedition would be sent to claim the island, the Nation I flag would be hauled, respectfully, down; Nation II's flag hauled, patriotically, up and a bottle of ardent spirits left at the foot of the flagpole.

A vertical triband design (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the center.O Canada Flag of NunavutNunavut: such a cool flag

Flag of GreenlandKalaallit NunaatFlag of DenmarkKongeriget Danmark.

This Spring, Russia invaded Ukraine and NATO was put on its mettle. If NATO soldiers from Denmark and Canada were going to be mobilised to the edge of a real war, then a pretend war throwing shapes and swapping whiskey was looking picayune and poor for propaganda. Accordingly, diplomats from both constitutional monarchies sat round a table, agreed on broad principals and sent their surveyors to the Arctic.

On 14th June 2022, Hans Island was formally CA-split-DK in a way that both sides considered A Win. The border follows a natural geophysical feature in the form of a slight depression curved across barren landscape. Better pics at Atlas Obscura. That's the essence of any successful diplomacy and a fair bargain. Now these Western nations can turn their attention East. Note that there more than twice as many Ukrainian Canadians [1.3m = 4% of the national pop] as Russian Canadians [600,000]. 

Other armchair commentators have noted that up until this Summer, both Denmark and Canada had a land borrrder with only one other country. At 8,890km, the land border between Canada and the USA is the longest in the world - 30% longer that that between Russia and Kazakhstan. But the 1,200m new land border is not the shortest in the world.  That record is claimed to be the 150m stretch in the middle of the Zambesi between Botswana and Zambia at the apex of the Caprivi Strip. Actually The Blob begs to differ: the border between the Spanish was-an-island Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera and Morocco is only 80m long and a lot drier land across the beach than the Zambesi.

Monday 9 January 2023

So many hungry monkeys

I think one of the most important teachable skills in sciences is counting in orders or magnitude. That, coupled with knowing the appropriate level of accuracy and rounding an answer appropriately. Statements like this "The current population of Ireland is 5,073,347 as of Monday, December 19, 2022" is bollix, despite being top of the google heap in a search. For most purposes 5.1 million is plenty accurate coupled with 4.9 million in mid-2020 from the same source. Guesstimating the size of things can be a) fun and b) useful; as when Fermi famously estimated the power of the Trinity Test in 1945 with a handful of torn paper. Indeed, such solvable conundrums are commonly called Fermi Problems to this day. I have had occasion to despair when science students switch this skill off . . . if they were ever taught it.

In the hub-bub of a family zoom before Xmas, Gdau.I [just turned 11] asked me if I thought there were enough bananas to feed all the monkeys in the world. Yo! the apple falleth not far from the tree: Dau.II, her auntie, asked a similar question at a similar age: "How many people make a proposal of marriage in/on the Eiffel Tower every day?" and we cranked out an answer to that one. The current problem is in two parts: how many 🐒🐒🐒s? and how many 🍌🍌🍌s? It would be just bonzer if there were enough to go round.


It is easier to obtain a dollar value for the trade in bananas than a tonnage. This appears to be $13,000,000,000. Neatly, the price per kilo imported to USA is  $1.5; giving 10 billion kg of bananas shipped from one place to another each year.  Cavendish bananas, as well as being an endangered species, account for the vast majority of this trade and weigh in at 5 to the kilo. Y?MV but I'd hazard that trade bananas account for between 10% and 50% of total ripe bananas.  Farmers in Honduras must eat some of their crop; and send some to their grown-up children slaving away in the city.

100 billion - 500 billion bananas


There are ~500 species of primate in total. Nobody knows; although lumpers vs splitters quite fiercely know different answers to the species count. Primates are the third most abundant Order of Mammals, after Rodents and Bats.
Apart from humans the most abundant primate is the gelada baboon Theropithecus gelada of which there are about 200,000 alive today. Nobody is claiming a spuriously accurate 211,394 count. If all primates were equally abundant, there would be 100 million non-human primates on the planet.

About half the primate species are Old [Cercopithecidae] and New [Platyrrhini] World "monkeys", so double the number of available bananas if you only care about monkeys.

Geladas are "bigger than a breadbox" at 10-16kg. Primates range is size from a mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae) [R with human hand for scale] weight 1oz = 30g to adult gorillas at 100kg [big sexual dimorphism in that species: males = 150kg, females 50kg].

The actual species abundance of primates is much less rosy than 100 million: numbers range from 200,000 to the several species which are teetering on the edge of extinction: effective abundance = zero!  Nobody has the skills, resources or patience to census all 500 species of Primate. But here's a table of 65 different species where those stats are available. The median value for head-count among those primate species is 1,000-2,000. So maybe 

2 million (and falling) non-human primates
(half of which are monkeys)

So there are plenty enough bananas to go round: at least a banana a day. That's just an appetizer for a gorilla but a daunting prospect  - 6x its body weight - to a mouse lemur.

Sunday 8 January 2023

Second Fiddle

 Seems like yesterday, but it's 200 years since Alfred Russel Wallace was born 8th Jan 1823. He was thus just 14 years younger than Charles Darwin, about whose bday we I have been making a great fuss - donuts etc. - for the last 40 years. It seems appropriate to at least flag the great man's birthday with a cake [go Laura]:

Wallace always deferred to Darwin and considered his contribution incidental to the process of getting the Origin of Species into print. Shout out to John "finch-sorter" Gould who gets even less press for guiding Darwin to the path of righteousness. Wallace had his insight into the power of natural selection to drive evolution while tossing in a malarial puddle of sweat at Ternate in the Dutch East Indies. Darwin had priority on this idea but had been in a decades long turmoil, lest publishing his arguments for species mutability would topple his seat at the table of British scientific patriarchy. Wallace's scooping letter from Ternate forced Darwin's hand and his pals arranged for a reading of the Darwin Wallace joint papers to the London Linnean Society in 1858. That event created almost no stir at the time. It was Darwin's [sole author] book published the following year that set the cat among the patriarchal pigeons.

Mainstream science tends to double-down on this attempt to fade Wallace from the story and big up the vaccillating Darwin. The Man gleefully cites Wallace's skepticism about [smallpox] vaccination and unskep about spiritualism and call him cranky. But I reckon we need more Wallaces about the place who bring a sharp mind to discomfit the cosy certainties of the establishment and force us to think and sift evidence rather than parroting what we read that morning in the Guardian [insert your favorite organ of the echo-chamber here]. Happy Birthday Alf!

If you want more information, and you should, check out the Wallace Memorial Fund WMF, patron Bill Bailey.

Not New Yrs Day '23

Golly me, it's twenty three! Every so often, Christmas and New Year's Day fall on a Sunday; and I still find it a bit unsettling. It seems that such times need the day to be something more than a reg'lar Sunday. But here we go with a reg'lar Sunday Miscellany.

Friday 6 January 2023

Mechanical cake

Last year [= last week] I was writing about baking powder. Even as I wrote ". . .there are two ways of getting loft into cakes - biological and chemical . . ." I knew I was ignoring part of the cakiverse. So here I am making up for slighting the physical / mechanical ways of creating foamy deliciousness. During my expensive education, I tried a few things once and then moved on. 

  • I was in a play that had a morris dancing scene; 
    • but not the other Beecham thing(*); 
  • I made a cheese soufflé
  • I rode a donkey . . . for 15 seconds
  • I went pillion on a motorcycle . . . for 15 minutes

You can tell I've lived a very exciting life; but the only event relevant to this post is the soufflé, which derives its light airiness from beating egg whites to a foam and folding that gloop gently into the other ingredients just before baking - pre-heat oven, or the confection will collapse.

A similar procedure is key to making meringues. The egg whites are separated from the yolk and whisked up into a foam. The bubbles of the foam are stabilized by the presence of protein - albumins and others - dissolved in the water. It is possible to over-beat the foam so that the matrix collapses, sometimes even before cooking starts. The whipping can increase the volume by as much as 8x and cooks like to achieve this maximum, even if they're not in the commercial business of selling air to punters. Various 'fixes' have been identified as either increasing the volume or, more relevantly, stabilizing the foam until the proteins are set by cooking. I am channeling On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee here [and prev].

  • Don't use a plastic bowl: it is hard-to-impossible to clean oils from plastic. Oils and fats prevent the egg-white proteins making the crucial interface between air and water.
  • rigorously exclude egg-yolk: lecithins are complex fatty molecules which are even more effective than sunflower oil or residual butter at elbowing into the molecular edge of the bubbles and causing collapse.
  • salt is ionic and will change the shape of albumin and lower its foam making capabilities - if you must add salt to taste, do so at the last moment
  • also add sugar [folding in] after the egg whites are proper peaky.
  • a pinch of cream of tartar [tartaric acid as in baking powder prev] will lower the pH from 9 to ~8 and this seems to enhance the foaminess and stability
  • it has long been asserted that a copper pan is a miracle-worker for meringues and there is some scientific evidence that copper ions help prevent over-beating collapse by stabilizing the foam
  • before your eyes evidence for bowl effects

So there is a little chemistry in making great meringues, but it's mainly elbow work [or Kenwood Chef for wimps].

Victoria sponges are related. Cream butter and sugar till it turns white [ie gorra lorra air in], in a separate bowl whisk the eggs so that they also have a lot of incorporated air. Throw them together then g e n t l y fold in sufficient flour; taking care not to work all the air out by over stirring. Very similar in principle to a soufflé, as both rely on beating to create bubbles in a foam and ultimately in the finished product. You'd be surprised by strawberry jam and clotted cream in a soufflé, though.

*Sir Thomas Beecham once said "In this life try everything once, except morris-dancing and incest".

Wednesday 4 January 2023


New Year's Day, I was being weather-wise positive about Xmas 2022 compared to Xmas 2021. Which is kinda nuts because, while being spared Floods, in 2022 we were subjected to three separate storm-related power-cuts and a mighty lightning strikeseemingly inside the house . . . there was the CRASH but also a smell of burning in the bedroom nearest the fuse-box . What is remarkable in hindsight is our capacity to make sense of sensory data in the context of prior experience.  I was so focused on dealing with the loss of electricity that all the symptoms were shoes-horned into the "electric system" shoe box. The "telephone system" because less urgent, was relegated to an after-thought paragraph.

In due course, the phone company contacted us to say that they had fixed the phone problem on the 5th day of their five working day window of acceptable repair time. Not so, because neither their the direct-connect landline, nor the wire-free base-station walkie-phone were working. But, triggered by the contact, one of us went up to the middle bedroom to bring down the base-station. Which revealed a much more credible theory to integrate all the data [bang . . . inside house . . . smell of burning in bedroom] - as well as what ever took out the electricity; the copper phone line had internalized "300 million Volts and about 30,000 Amps". All that power had to go somewhere and it blew out 20cm of sheathing [R] round the phone line to the base-station, vaporizing some of the copper and some of the plastic in a big sooty mess. My high-school physics tells me that V.A = W.

electrical potential V x current A = power W

A lightning strike, briefly, conveys ~10 TW [= 10 x 10^12] of power which is about 1,000x the power requirement for the island of Ireland whc ~= 10 GW. That's a hella lot of too hot to touch electric kettles to go down a wee wire  < 1mm ⌀. No wonder there was a BNAG!


Note to self: only an amadán would contrive to take a photo of a sooty wire disaster on a white sofa cushion because it was the most convenient white background!

Collateral damage to table and wall:


Monday 2 January 2023

Riparian rehab

Christmas 2021 we had rather too much water. The drain topped out and would have washed out the lane, were it not for three pairs of fit and timely hands to unblock the drain and keep the water out of the roadway. Meanwhile at the other end of the property the wee river Aughnabriskey got above itself and under-cut the bank, tipping several trees into the torrent. We spent a few days salvaging what firewood we could. I also planted out a few dozen rooted willow [Salix spp.] whips: hoping that their developing root system would stablise the bank whence their much larger predecessors' root ball had been untimely ripped.

Christmas 2022 was positively balmy by comparison. The cold snap of early December passed through without dumping any snow and we returned to normal benign wet Westerlies whooshing in from the Gulf Stream. I've been trying to pace myself, on the outdoor front, since copping a 'Rona eight weeks ago.  If work needs doing, it's little & often. Went to bed at my normal time on New Year's Eve and sprang from bed at 0600 hrs, as usual. A while later Dau.I wandered in, wondering about nautical and astronomical twilight [prev] and how they might relate to, actual, sunrise. Turns out, at this time of year, the grey time between  Night  and 🌄 is more than 2 hours! - waiting for the sunrise is therefore akin to watching paint dry. But we could see stars in the heavens, so that boded well for visibility of sun-peep. 

Even as we girded our lions <roooARRR> to set off up hill to see the dawn's early light there was a slash of rain on the windows; and we paused in mid-gumboot. But 10 minutes later, we left home regardless. eeee, it were lovely: watching the day break around us, as we nattered about databases, great bosses, the virtues of swimming, Excel, incompetent management, whether scones should have currants, and how crocked up we were by the covid. There was running water in the drain but none coming down from the sky  and by the time we'd reached the top of The Stumping Ground (previously The Sitka Forest before it was clear-felled) it was quite bright and we could see the remains of the earlier shower moving out across Wexford to the Irish Sea. If it looks a bit aura-like behind me [L], it must be the way I'm striking a pose. It's more than halfway to St Fursey's Altar, and I have a note-to-self on the kitchen calendar for St Fursey's Day in a fortnight. After a respectful pause, and a 'miner's view' to get some wind back we headed downhill, where Dau.I captured the year's first sunrise:

0845hrs: more or less in time for breakfast. 

The weather stayed fine all morning. After lunch I looked at the Things To Do TTD list and carried ~30 willow [Salix spp.] trimmings, which had been soaking in a bucket for several months, down to the river.  I covered the roots in a feed-sack against cold shock, seized my Phineas Gage Memorial  iron spike, and strode off down-valley. Two minutes later, I came back to the house and told Team Baldur's Gate on the sofa that I was off on a real world quest and to come looking if I was not back by dark.
What could possibly go wrong?
But I did come within an ace of plunging full length in the river, when one foot disappeared down a ferny grike and the rest of me fell full-length on the very edge of dry land.  

TTD: [Plant out willows: ✓]

I'm glad that's done. The willow was at nothing sitting in a bucket in the garden. The whips I planted along the same riparian reach a year ago haven't grown in any obvious manner. But that's the way of small trees; it takes 3-4 years to get the infrastructure sorted [roots, water, nutrients, minerals] then whoomph: up they go. In this case, I'm indifferent to height; what's required is a tangled root system to act as a bulwark against the next 20-year flood. Of course, because climate change, the next 20-year flood is due next Wednesday!

Sunday 1 January 2023

New Years Day 2023

1st Jan 2023

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Minnie Haskins 1908

I've joined George VI Windsor in quoting this before in the context of pilgrimage and the nanny state. Today we leave 2022 behind; which year has been quite exciting in a Red Top headline sort of way. The death of George's daughter, for example; or the Eastern European War. And, no, I didn't tune into the September funeral games in the country next door - don't 'ave a telly, mate. And actually, I've made a conscious decision not to doom-scroll over Ukraine; not least because don't 'ave a telly, mate easily accessible news sources are partial in both sense of that word. Whatevs!

What I came to say, holding hands with the Year-Gate feller, is best wishes and bon courage for 2023. Stuff will happen, don't lose heart, take it one day at a time.

Credits: Christmas Chapel in gingerbread by Dau.II and Dau.I