Friday 29 September 2023

I could read the sky

I could mend nets. Thatch a roof. Build stairs. Make a basket from reeds. Splint the leg of a cow. Cut turf. Build a wall. Go three rounds with Joe in the ring Da put up in the barn. I could dance sets. Read the sky. Make a barrel for mackerel. Mend roads. Make a boat. Stuff a saddle. Put a wheel on a cart. Strike a deal. Make a field. Work the swarth turner, the float and the thresher. I could read the sea. Shoot straight. Make a shoe. Shear sheep. Remember poems. Set potatoes. Plough and harrow. Read the wind. Tend bees. Bind wyndes. Make a coffin. Take a drink. I could frighten you with stories. I knew the song to sing to a cow when milking. I could play twenty-seven tunes on my accordion.

That's the entirety of Chapter 9 in I could read the sky [1997] by Timothy O'Grady (words) and Steve Pyke (pics) A list less fighty than, say, Heinlein's . . . except the boxing; more handy than Anne Fadiman's [bothoprev]. The respectful Forward is by John Berger - of course given this book's words+pics country-life homage to his A Fortunate Man. Here's a 20m retrospective on RTE from earlier this year.

The book is written as a memory palace of an ould feller who escaped from the West of Ireland when he was vigorous to seek his fortune in England; but he can't stop cycling the rolladex images of his youth. He works as a labourer ; recreates in the boozer ; plays a mean accordion ; gets married ; is widowed ; dies in a bedsit in London. Along the way several of his friends-and-relations die violently because health & safety was sketchy among McAlpine's Fusiliers. When he was born, his little community was self-sufficient and introspective. By the time he comes home to be buried, half the houses in the townland are roofless and abandoned: the families who lived there scattered or dead. 

The tale is not 'true' and it's a little happier than the many tales of the lonely Irish diasporans with no kin to claim their body. The London Irish Centre runs a befriending service for the lonely ex-pats. The photos in the book are not 'true' either, in that they are a pastiche rather than documenting a specific community at home and in Britland. But as the quote at the top recognises, a life lived without the trappings of 'success' is not necessarily unhappy or unfulfilled.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Strange meeting

No not Wilfred Owen. We did that 3 years ago.I can't find this story in The Blob which is surprising because, to a close approximation, my entire life has been chopped into memorable sentences and chunked into this site. Anyway, at the tail end of the last century, I was able to midwife a handy self-teaching manual called As easy as ABC - Aoife's Bioinformatics Course. It got some traction in the European quango of which I was the Irish Node and I was invited to use the document while teaching in person in several other countries. The second time, I was in Oslo, my Norwegian oppo was on maternity leave and I was left partly in the care of a post-doc from Colombia. At the end of a day on my feet, completely talked out, this chap insisted on dragging me up two floors to meet The Other Person from Ireland

I was too weak to resist and it was churlish to refuse but I didn't think that just because we shared  a homeland we'd have anything in common. Despite my grumpy expectations it turned out to be a lucky [make your own luck] event. She had been through the same course and graduated from the same department as me, about 10 years later. Back in those far back days, she'd been really good friends with another graduate who was then running a parallel bioinformatics support service in the next building to me - we had lunch together almost every day. I mentioned that we'd just moved down the country and were raising two girls in The Blackstairs. She asked if I knew Pat-the-Post, who was her father's bestie and her own godfather. Indeed so: he was our regular (remarkably kind and helpful) postman. A few years and a repatriation later, my new Oslo pal met an artist in our yard and they started a successful Arts-meets-Science collaboration; but that's another story.

Our Oslo meeting is not the wild coincidence it seems at face. I would guess that the number of Irish  post-graduates working abroad (before the Celtic Tiger really started barking) is within one order of magnitude as the number of Universities on the planet [N=~25,000]. So it's not wild to have an Irish person in each one of those: more in the US and EU, fewer in South America and sub-Saharan Africa. And my course was billeted in the biotech building. Irish Biotechnologists is a finite group which are probably 2 degrees of sep apart.

Did I mention that we celebrated Dau.I's 6th birthday watching the sunset from the top of Table Mountain? I did! There were dassies Procavia capensis [L]. We were all there because a) the ABC manual had secured me a week of teaching in Pretoria and Capetown b) The Beloved's brother TBB lived in Capetown and our girls were hanging out with their same-age cousins. So I have [thin] skin in the game. TBB met a binfo pal of mine on a walking trail on table mountain a few years after that birthday party. But that binfopal was then living-and-working in Capetown, so they were almost destined to meet at some stage if they had any kind of off-campus life at all at all.

Fast forward 25 years to last week. I was fossicking about in the lane when I said Hi to another walker: we get a good bit of hill-walking traffic. He stopped to chat; I suggested a route to his destination to include St Fursey's Altar; The Beloved had already had words over the gate of the sheep-paddock, which had established that random walker - call him Antidorcas? - was a South African from Capetown and secured an invitation to take tea on his way down from the hills. It was nearly dark and "tea" was long over when there was a knock at the door. But our new pal was brought to the table and fed own-self-make pizza and own-self-grown cucumber. Dau.II was also tucking in on the other side of the kitchen table and it came out that both young people had been through the Home Education mill.
"After a couple of years home educated, I went to a Waldorf School . . ."
"How old are you? which Waldorf?"

Turns out that, aged 12, he was besties with one of the Capetown cousins! Small world.

Monday 25 September 2023

Making sense of fritters

Prof Brent Seales, Director of the Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments, UK United Kingdom University of Kentucky is involved in the Vesuvius Challenge and high-tech meitheal to reveal the linguistic contents of a batch of carbonized papyrus scrolls which had been covered in ash at Herculaneum for 2,000 years. The villa where they were last read, was [perhaps] owned by Lucius Calpurnius Piso the father of J. Caesar's third [or 4th] wife Calpurnia. although Lucius was 100+ years dead at the time of the Vesuvian eruption of 79CE [Bloboprev on carbonized Herculaneloaves]. Each scroll - there are 600 of them more or less intact - look like nothing so much as a Gregg's sausage roll that's been put in a furnace.

The Vesuvius Challenge is offering a $1million prize to the first team to "Read at least 4 separate passages of continuous and plausible text from the scrolls, each at least 140 characters long". So if your submission is four consecutive tweets from Stephen Fry - even if in Latin - you are not going to win. But that's a big prize for a big ask; so there is a letter prize of $40K if you decipher 10 characters on a fragment at least 4cm² in extent. Plausibility rules apply here too. It will be a software solution where the algorithm calls out enhance! . . . enhance! . . . until there is no contrast left to work on - all that's left is grey e-soup. The two large$t sponsors of the prize are a) tECHbRO JosephJacks who is gate-keeping his LinkedIn account with a dorky bot-cancelling task which took this dull-human 3 attempts to crack. b) Alex Gerko was-a-Russian British currency trader.

It is clear from the frags shown [L] that some parts of some scrolls have been tweezered loose but far more data has been >!poof!<ed to dust by earnest / arrogant employers of prior art in the field. It's like the 17thC antiquarians who dug holes in long-barrows in search of treasure and thereby destroyed forever and all time the archaeological context and stratigraphy which allows sense to be made of the artifacts. To archaeologists, a set of carbonized post-holes and some pot-sherds is more valuable than Sr Narciandi's golden torc from a week ago.

The smart money at the moment is non-destructive X-ray tomography which can non solum tease out the layers of each roll, sed etiam separate the ink from the matrix . . . and read it. 

My MeFi pals discussed the challenge in March  and proved less interested in the scrolls' literary potential [altho there was one vote for new poems by Sappho] and more in material that would yield insight into the daily lives of ordinary folk at the zenith of the Roman Empire - bring on the shopping lists, like.

Sunday 24 September 2023

Misc Match

Geog 101

A something for the weekend at-least-100-years-old puzzle due to Henry Ernest Dudeney:

Friday 22 September 2023

Moths on the pillow

Two years ago, we walked a troubled league near Thin Places with  Kerri ní Dochartaigh picking up feathers and stones because they were there so fucking perfect: exemplars of their kind. You canna keep a poet in a box, they have to walk about  this dark world and wide  looking sideways at feathers and stones and the beating heart. The rest of us don't even notice the feathers, let alone reflect on how form and function collide. The rest of us shear away from Thin Places where real life steps through those rents in the fabric of the universe to confront the other

But on this All Soul’s Night there is
no respite from the keening of the wind.
I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
from the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
a cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
and release from being the conscience of the town.

More? Canongate have brought out a continuation of This Observer's life Cacophony of Bone which starts between Solstice and Christmas 2019 when Kerri and her feller M, bunk off from Derry to hunker down in a micro-cottage on a now barely visible defunct railway in Co Westmeath. Their rough haven in a sea of troubles is about halfway between Lough Derravarragh and Granard Co Longford. The book is dedicated to Ann Lovett of Granard [and see Paula Meehan stanza above] and Kerri often swims in wild Derravarragh with the Children of Lír and in-real-life wild things: feathered and finned. With hindsight it was an awkward time to start a year of living together up a laneway surrounded by bogs. Even as their van pulled into the yard, SARS-CoV2 was scything through Wuhan and was about to change what everybody could and couldn't do. In another life (same planet) my mother died, in the fullness of her 99 years, three weeks after Kerri and M had their first breakfast in their new home. At her memorial service in February 2020, rumours of Covid were drubbing louder and that was the last time I was in England until the end of August this year.

 The title Cacophony of Bone is an acknowledgment of the litter of skeletal remains that are scattered about the fields and ditches . . . if you pay attention and care to look. Kerri has a collection of these skulls and pelvises which rub scapulae with the feathers and perfick stones that can be found on beaches - when we're permitted to travel from bogland to shoreline. As well as wild-swimming and bogland walks, Kerri records the process of final revisions and proofing her first book aka, in the book's Victorian convention of reference by initials, "TP". In one sense this choice is legitimate - it's a journal! -  in another it's exclusionary to the reader. JH is John "Derry's Own" Hume who died, and is here fondly memorialized, in August of the year of marking time - that's okay. M is Kerri's life-partner, unless it's referring to M's business partner M. Other writers, incl Manchán Magan [prev] are mostly credited in full, while personal pals and supporters are reduced to a letter grade. I guess they know who they are, and it's none of my biz.

I had a swipe at the word unimaginable in my review of TP. CoB's over-used word is surreal. It can almost always be replaced with surprising, unusual, peculiar and is rarely used in its dictionary sense of the intersection of dreams and the unconscious with reality. Now, authors and especially poets can adopt a Humpty-Dumpty (When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less) attitude to language but loose massaging of meaning make the writing flabby.

Two particular and personal celebrations twine through this journey-in-place: i) getting on the waggon after years of crabby hung-over mornings and ii) getting with child, which brings its own crabby mornings. I used the f-word in the first sentence of this Blob, which is not something I do a lot. But in this piece it's not out of place? That's how babies are made and, after surreal, it's the most over-used adjective in Cacophony of Bones. 

But leave aside the carp! Read this book for its lyrical ruminations on nature and our place there. Kerri ní D is mind-open to whatever the world throws at her; she pays attention and is grateful for small-small things. Growing lettuce in her own garden becomes a source of wonder and accomplishment; waking to find a moth on her pillow is a message from the old gods; just by being there, by bearing witness, she soothes the troubled breast. Hers, but ours too by proxy. 

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm
. src
sing it

And the child? Reader, she delivered him!

Wednesday 20 September 2023


We had 24 hours of drizz 14-15 September last week. That's rather extreme for Ireland because the fronts tend to move in from the Atlantic and move smartly across the country for their destination in Cymru across the water. But Met Eireann issued a yellow [orange for The Déise and The People's Republic of Cork] rainfall (spot flooding possible) warning as a gert big slobby wet blanket settled down over the island. This may [wtf do I know?] have been an out-rider of Hurricane Margot whc was building 1,000 km due West of the Azores [mappe see end]. It is amazing and wonderful to be able to see these satellite / radar pictures so appropriately annotated: it really does help in predicting when to bring the laundry in off the line.

It is The End of Days: the driest June and the wettest July since records began and the hay still uncut. In June towards the end of the May/June drought we depleted all our rainwater storage and were reduced to using the standpipe and groundwater. Prev on drainage rates. Clearly we need more than 3 tonnes of stored water to be self-sufficient in the poly-tunnel. Our 1 tonne back-up storage was depleted over the rest of the Summer but there was sufficient "current" water to keep the tomatoes from going thirsty. The 24hrs of drizz was steady enough to fill every receptacle but not so heavy as to fill the drain and drive me out in the dark will tarpaulin jacket and a shovel.

Nevertheless, I was up and down to the polytunnel between dinner and midnight tricking about with the pipes, pumps and buckets. When the in-tunnel 1 tonne IBC is full, I've been in the habit of guttering the water into my new in-tunnel lawn. But that night I inserted our industrial wheel-barrow into the flow and held on to 200 lt there as well as filling its smaller cousin. At the tail end of Summer, this is surely overkill because we are past peak bean and approaching peak tomato. So even if we have further EndOfDays anomaly drought in the Fall, it won't be critical.

Last year we had an extended dry spell was 2018. Metachat pointed me at a report on Hungersteine = hladové kameny which mark the low-low watermark at certain places on the Elbe and other central European rivers. These are normally invisible except to snorklers but, in the past, local folks have memorialized drought-disasters in {1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892 &1893}by carving the date and a warning to those who come after "We cried, we cry and you will cry."


Monday 18 September 2023

torc torc

Found art is a thing. It's 100 years since Marcel Duchamp presented a signed urinal as an object suitable for an art exhibition. That's clever-clogs enough, but it gets tired when, say, Carl Andre tried [successfully] a similar thing 50 years later. I'll leave the art know-alls to counter Ruskin's crit of another work of art: “I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”

The Blob was a couple of tales about someone being a) in the right place b) at the right time c) with their eyes truly open d) appropriately educated to see meaning in an object out of place [and time]. Tetradrachm and our own Ringstone. Because good things always - eventually - come in 3s, another found object [wonderfully R] coursed over my horizon last week. Sergio Narciandi is, in order of importance, i) the brother of my pal El Asturiano [polybloboprev] ii) a massive history buff iii) working for the municipal water company.

At the end of August, Sergio was working along a remote part of his infrastructural territory when he saw something glinting in the dirt. Strict anglophones can get the gist here. He wiggled out a fabulous golden torc from the Bronze Age. Because he knows and cares about the common heritage of Asturias, he immediately grassed himself up the the appropriate authorities who gave a little whoop, vacated their desks, piled into a car and drove asap to the spot. Between them, they soon turned up another torc (broken into six parts) and they returned with trowels, sieves and tooth-brushes to stake out and deep clean the area. Nothing beside remains.

There has been a lot of forehead slapping amazement that the discovery and its investigation was a text-book example of how things should proceed: according to law, according to good practice but not, woefully, according to precedent. Far too many people think that found heritage becomes their personal property but such people are usually too ignorant, too selfish, too avaricious to benefit. According to Spanish law treasure trove is the property of the state but the finder gets 25% of it's value. By doing the right thing, Sergio looks to be in line for a windfall of maybe €50,000. The Museo Arqueológico de Asturias is going to do all the leg work and they'll deliver a much better return than the local fence in Covadonga.

Sunday 17 September 2023

Bit of this

. . . and a bit of that

Friday 15 September 2023

Comms connex

Did I mention that we had sold our souls and all our secrets to Vodafone, our intermediary for connecting to rural fibre optic bband? I did! The Vodafone sales-rep and his apprentice and their company car had pulled into the yard to reel us in a month previous and thereafter we had been dealing with Circet the subcontractor for the National Broadband Ireland. The NBI only, like, employs €100,000+ executives, all the effectives are subbies. The actual wire-puller and pole-climber loads up their truck each day with four 500m reels of fibre-optic cable and is given a list of tasks to complete. Each home or office on their round will have been seduced by the blandishments of one of 29 [twenty-nine!] ISPs. The cable is generic but the router is branded NBI but the modem at the end point will carry one of 29 different logos and each company will have its own characteristic factory-set of passwords.

The point of the password is to make it hard for your neighbours to free-load on your contract, so it shouldn't really require anything more than a PIN code of 4 or 5 digits. Our previous ISP went for 8 characters first fjfa0gyb then 11 chars A37AF7897FD. The first is stupid because 0 is ambiguous [zero or oh] and absurdly long for brute force guessing [(26+10)^8 >> 3,000,000,000,000!] the second is still longer [(26+10)^11 =~ 1.3 x 10^17]. At least they have the virtue of using only either digits and l.c. letters OR digits and CAPS. Why is that a virtue? Because you will probably have to explain that password to your printer on a very primitive hunt-and-peck "keyboard" changing case requires an extra bunch of keystrokes. This is Vodafone's idea of a convenient but secure password:


that's sixteen characters!! in a mix of cases. That's 4.7 x 10^28 possible permutations. That's a hella big number for security and required me to press cursor-buttons at least 160 times - 20% of them because of internal case changes. Why, user-experience experts at Vodafone, is that a good / necessary use of my time? Answers on a postcard or in the comments below. 

If you, dear reader, want to hang out behind the woodshed coat-tailing on our superfibre broadband, you now have the wherewithall.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Killing it, getting there

Report from The Department of Seen To Be Doing Something about road deaths on RTE last week. [Non-cabinet] Minister of State at the Department of Transport Jack Chambers is suggesting that speed limits drop 

  • Big Roads 100km/h to 80 km/h
  • Rural roads  80km/h to 60 km/h
  • Urban roads 50km/h to 30 km/h
The driver seems to be that "126 people have been killed on the roads so far this year, which is an increase of 24 on the same period last year. One fifth of all those deaths occurred in August". This is not [sufficient] evidence to make a change to the status quo w.r.t. speed limits. Road deaths have been bumbling along in the grass for the last five years 135 -140 - 146 - 136 - 155.
It's not obvious to all thinking people me that the changes are anything more than a statistical blip. We are certain-sure doing far better at this in this century than in the last. 25 years ago, there were 3 times more road-deaths annually [in a much smaller population] than we experience nowadays. One thing that alerts the crap-detector is to compare the narrative from September 2016 when the (young) drivers of Donegal seemed to be peculiarly dangerous on the roads. Not least because of the articulate soundbytes of Dr Gerry Lane the A&E consultant in Letterkenny, Co Donegal who had to pick up the pieces and sew them back on. The RSA produced an executive summary of the 2023 Year to end-August. I abstract those data county-by-county:

The RSA narrative is that 37% of the Jan-Aug 2023 deaths are due to mayhem in 4 counties Cork - Galway - Mayo - Tipp. But that's a terrible reading of their own data because they fail to adjust for population. In the graphic [L] I have done this to exonerate Co Cork which, at 17 deaths per million, is actually pro rata pop in the bottom quartile of the table. And Galway's rate is exceeded by 7 other counties: Looking at you Offaly and Monaghan! Donegal is now only a few spots above Galway and defo in the bottom half of this grim league table. Tipperary is up this August partly because 4 youngsters were killed in a single vehicle going to a party crash outside Clonmel.

I only hope that Jun.Minister Chambers can mobilise better data-wonks than the RSA before he embarks on an expensive scheme to replace all the speed-limit signs in the country. TDs are going to lose their seats at the next election if they start shouting about lowering the speed limits. Don't bother me none, I get up early and never needed to hurry to clock in at work. But lots of other folk are juggling the school run with sleep-deficit and a second income because they are mortgaged to the hilt and have kids. They won't feel able to dawdle to day-care and then to work each day.

And the known unknown unintended consequences? Our Dau.II has L plates on the car; takes her time driving carefully and is obsessive about speed limits. This seems to act as an insanity magnet for other drivers to overtake her in sketchy situations with or without horn.

The most shoulder-slumping consequence of this political theatre is that in one of the two years after the change to lower speed-limits it is entirely probable that road deaths will blip down again . . . and the pols will claim credit for their sagacious prophylactic actions. But it will just be an example of regression to the mean [explanaprev] after the extremes of 2023. Don't get me wrong: I'm as anti-car as the most obsessive cycle-nut of your acquaintance; we spend far too much time and money tooling about in them to the detriment of 1) our heart-health; 2) the lung-health of the people we chuff past; 3) every living thing on the planet.

Monday 11 September 2023

Stormy Jocelyn

As promised in August 1st September is when the UK NL IE Met Offices reveal >!shazzam!< the official storm names for the 2023-2024 season. and <drum> they <roll> are: Agnes, Babet, Ciarán, Debi, Elin, Fergus, Gerrit, Henk, Isha, Jocelyn, Kathleen, Lilian, Minnie, Nicholas, Olga, Piet, Regina, Stuart, Tamiko, Vincent and Walid. Oddly, Ciarán, diacritic fada and all, was not party of Team Met Eireann. Less Oddly, at least the Irish names are chosen for pioneering Irish scientists, which is a shade less silly than sticking a pin in the relevant page of Name Your Erse Babe.

Jocelyn Bell-Burnell [whom we've blobbed before] captured the conceit rather well: "I am delighted to feature in this distinguished list celebrating science and hope that if a potential “Storm Jocelyn” happens, it may be a useful stirring-up rather than a destructive event! Science advancements increase our knowledge and understanding of the world around us, and I think this is wonderful example of science-based services communications.” But she may rest easy: it is vanishingly unlikely that we will get as far down the list as Storm J. Last storm year we crapped out at Betty. The only other overlap between my list of notable Irish [female] scientists and Met Eireann's is the chemist Kathleen "Benzene" Lonsdale.

Maybe, having ticked the science [✓] box with this year's naming of winds, we can finally honour Teresa Manion [above L] reporting on Storm Desmond in 2015 and horizontal rain. Sing it: Don't make unnecessary journeys - Don't take risks on treacherous roads - And never ever go to Crossmolina.

Sunday 10 September 2023



Friday 8 September 2023

CRAAC propagation

I failed my Physics "O" Level, not least because I live in my head rather than in the real world of materials and how they interact together. I can hammer a nail; but not with 100% reliability; I just confessed to be unable to drive 3 screws out of 12; I have installed sheep-wire upside-down because I haven't a clue. I like bodging (chairs from tea-chests;wooden-tops) but wouldn't trust me to make something structural

It's not that I don't try. A few years ago The Beloved sent me on a dry-stone walling course up in Westmeath. It was a piece of pee! we had a shed full of limestone slabs which are sedimentary rocks so flat on parallel sides. The one rule of thumb was to ensure never to have two joints between rocks one above the other. If you do, it makes that part of the wall intrinsically less stable. Overlapping the joints - like in regular brick-work - prevents cracks propagating through the structure. Building with granite is much harder [ho ho! granite is 6-7 on the Mohs scale; limestone only 3-4] because parallel faces are a matter of luck [or trimming] rather than due to the inherent molecular structure. See [R] how a crack has propagated down about 1m from the wall-plate of one of our shed until blocked by a sufficiently long & hefty stone [under the ] in the course below.

The same principal plays out on a smaller scale in concrete which is a mix of sand, cement and aggregate. The chunks in the aggregate serve the same purpose in concrete as stones in walls. In amorphous solids like glass or aluminum sheet, small cracks will propagate across the whole sheet over time. One emergency way to halt this is to drill a hole at the end of the crack which dissipates the energy which is sundering the material.

All that is back-story for a lamentable fiasco across the water in England. After 13 years of Tory misrule, it has come to the attention of the government right at the start of the school year that many of the country's school are unsafe for children. The reason is the widespread use of RAAC reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete slabs in the construction of schools in the 50s-80s of the last century. RAAC is cheap-and-cheerful and aggregate-free and so is more likely to fail. It has/had a design shelf-life of 30 years anyway, and it is 30 years since RAAC was deprecated by engineers and replaced by regular concrete in the 1990s. So any school, any building, which still has RAAC is out of warranty.

Failure could be catastrophic cracks through the whole beam or it could 'only' involve spalling [prev] where chunks of concrete shear off the ceiling and rain down on the desks. The reality of this problem was highlighted by an actual collapse at Singlewell School in Kent 5 years ago. It goes against Tory ideology to properly resource state schools because only proles go there. Resourcing includes regular inspections to determine whether the buildings are fit for purpose. The Irish government is stoutly maintaining that RAAC is not present in any schools in the Republic. 

Much gleeful RAAC schadenfreude rained down on Education Secretary Gillian Keegan who wanted a medal for closing school before she had to explain away a repeat of Aberfan 1966. She didn't actually want a medal because that's only for soldiers. Her rhetorical question was: 'Does anyone ever say: you know what, you've done a fucking good job because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing?'. imo, Keegan is by no means the worst cabinet minister in London.

Wednesday 6 September 2023

I know why the caged bulb shines

Light bulbs are a miracle but we sure treat them peculiar. We spend money to buy them (and more money to run them) but then decide that they are toooo bright and need to be dulled down with some sort of covering. It's like having pink polka-dotted knickers under your grey office trousers. Years ago, in one of my gap years, I made a number of cubical Mondrian lamp-shades by gluing A3 paper to 5x5mm balsa wood battens and collaging on primary-colour paper rectangles and lines of black cartridge paper. They cost me nothing but time and were effective at muting the incandescent light within. Not many people would do that because they believe that their time is money and they'd rather have their lampshades assembled by an unfortunate $2-a-day grunt in Bangladesh. And believe me, that shade will cost more than $2 - think Nike trainers.

Did I mention that I was in England last week assembling flat-pack furniture? I did. You can usually expect sparkies to put up the lamp-shade if a) it is available b) they are installing a new light fitting. The lamp between the stairs and the front door [see L] had limited space above the door and so the châtelaine ordered a classy bamboo open-work shade on line. The Sparkie opened the box in good faith and dumped a clatter of 36 bamboo micro-battens on the floor.  The electrics were duly installed but clearly making a 3-D wooden jigsaw was a bridge too far and/or infringed the bailliwick of the United Brotherhood of Puzzlers - the relevant trade union.

It therefore fell to Bob the Blackleg to out-sweatshop the Bengalis by emptying the packing box [again], ponder the wordless instructions a while and then set-to connecting two wooden discs with the 36 bendy bamboo struts. It was a nice example of a Javi Problem: a daunting task that yields in surprisingly short order if you just make a start. Full disclosure: there was another, similar, puzzle-shade to be assembled and installed at the top of the stairs. The second task was much easier because I was in the zone.

Monday 4 September 2023

Flat-pack rabbit

At the very birth of Xerox when photocopying was still black&white I liked to save paper by printing [short] docs back-to-back. Protocol: 

  1. Copy one side
  2. insert that page back into the paper tray
  3. copy the other side
  4. presto!

Easy, except that the first time you do this, the 2nd side will overprint the first OR the 2nd side will be upside down w.r.t. the first OR, indeed, both There are only four possible ways to insert the printed side back into the paper tray but it would always take me 5! attempts to get it to work. Hint: it helps to put a tiny red dot on one corner of the top sheet of the paper tray before printing the first side. That should help to orient the page for the second go through.

Q. How many different ways can you screw together two pieces of flat-pack jig-saw??
A. Enough to strip the thread from the pre-drilled holes and require a match-stick as a shim.

Was in England last month for the last week of the Gdau school holidays, so that both parents could slave away keeping the economy ticking over. Their family home has undergone an infra-structural make-over. Problem is that the building is part of a Grade II Listed "row of seven cottages. Early C19 with C20 alterations. Limestone ashlar; painted ashlar and slate roofs to some; others have pantile roofs to the front, concrete tile to the rear; moulded stacks to party walls and gable ends. Two cottages have wrought iron S shapes to the ends of tie-bars. Included for group value". The real problem is that the electrics had developed a tendency to short out and we were all worried that there would a house-fire or something similar. 

If you've going to rip up floors and ceilings for re-wiring, it might be time for a wider make-over: replacing the kitchen plumbing, swap the bedrooms around etc. When we arrived, the family had just returned home after renting another place down the street while the tradesmen broke things down and built them up again. There was still a stack of flat-pack 'furniture' that required assembly; a stack which was altogether in the berluddy way for a small house. No set of assembly instructions comes with an English narrative; but some are much worse than others: like a xerox of a xerox where the illustrations were kinda crappy to begin with. The Boy and I mistakenly believed that two nearly identical baulks of timber [each a smudged 40cm long in the instructions] were indeed identical. That required dismantling almost all our work to swap them round.

The penultimate task was to hang two glass-fronted doors. The hinges were attached to the doors with two 10mm microscrews. All I had to do was line the hinges up with 12 pre-drilled holes and drive in M4 x 20mm screws. Maybe I should have plunged the screws into a bar of soap before trying to turn them in tight guide holes but I contrived to break the heads off 3 screws leaving the shank obstructing the berluddy 'oles. Each hinge has three holes, but you can get a life-times use if you only employ 2 of them. So I only had to move one hinge down a piece and drill more holes. I also took a trip into Ye Olde Village Hardware Store to buy a dozen robust M4 x 20mm [or 6 x ¾ in as they call them yokes in Britland]. The doors initially manifest a disconcerting tendency to swing open like a poltergeist was present but a stern talking-to solved that.

Ever bought something from Ikea? How many 4mm ⌀ hex Allen keys do you have??? When will FlatPak Inc feel justified in not including an Allen key in every box on the assumption that there are more 4mm Allen keys on the planet than people . . . than chickens . . . than cockroaches? 

With one Gdau to hold the other end, I put together the ladder-shelf unit shown at the top of the post. The longer vertical strut is actually two bits of bamboo laminate held together by a scarf joint. The shelves are bolted to the uprights by counter-sunk threaded screws. My first attempt mismatched the scarf joints so that only half the counter-sunk dents could be on the outside to receive the shelf. screws: dismantle and try again. Second attempt contrived to install the bottom shelf upside down. It's meant to be idiot-proof! But that's clearly a bridge too far for me.

Friday 1 September 2023

Wrath Corner

I haven't been to Land's End or John O'Groats, which are the two normal ne plus ultra* points on the big island next door. But I have been to Cape Wrath [see R] which is a) the top left corner of the Scottish mainland b) a deal more remote than either of those two places. In 1989, during one of my gap years, The Boy and I drove from Newcastle/Tyne, where I was resting and he was in school, to Cape Wrath by way of St Andrew's, Braemar, Grantown, Inverness and Durness. That's as near as you can get by car. The last inlet of this fissured coast, The Kyle of Durness, is a bridge too far for bridges but there is a passenger ferry to the quay at Achiemore and a minibus will take you the last 16km to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath. You can walk back, if you're fit. We had a glorious day for it 34 years ago: it was not raining rain . . . and the M.O.D. was not raining ordnance on the moorland through which the single track road passes. I make no apology for assertively sitting in the two front seats on the drive back, so that the youngster could see and remember the experience. The most notable and disturbing part of having an hour in 1989 to explore at CapeWrath was that one of the gullies had been used as the light-house keepers' dump for the previous 160 years: white-goods, trailer-axles, cans and old rope had just been heaved over the edge until the winter storms carried the shite away. The cape was named hvarf = 'turning-point' by the Vikings; nothing to do with angry weather gods.

I don't think about that trip every day but I do remember it. It came up last weekend because Dau.II came back from a week in Ullapool with the aforementioned Boy and his family. And the allllmost made a day-trip of it. It's 50 miles drive from Ullapool to Durness, so you'd return to your digs at the end of the day utterly clapped out without ever having to walk more than a few steps. When we were there, the lighthouse was still crewed by the Northern Lighthouse Board but the system was automated in 1998.  Currently, some of the buildings have been leased to Angie & John Ure who run the Ozone Café and Bunkhouse. Everybody has a positive word to say about the Ozone!

If you are ever in Durness, you have to go to Smoo Cove next door which is like Stradbally, down The Déise, on steroids. It is a long [maybe 300m] thin [maybe 30m across] deep-water inlet which penetrates the landscape as Smoo Cave under the 'main' road. Smoo apparently means 'hidden' in Old Norse and it is easy to imagine a longship nipping in there to avoid pursuit by Ivar Iron-nipples

(*) ne plus ultra?: Parnell's monument apparently has a spelinge errur. Who knew?