Monday 30 October 2023

Full Nelson

I've just knocked off Margaret Heffernan's book Wilful Blindness - Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. I think it must have sailed over my horizon is one (or more) of Matthew Syed's Sideways podcasts, on which I've been on a bit of a jag this Fall. Full Nelson? an English skoolboy - everbode kno - reference.

I believe that most of Wilful Blindness is worth reading despite such unscientific assertions as "The trade-off between social and financial motivation and the sense that one works against the other is intuitively understandable even if it isn't statistically demonstrable". And citing the work of Dan Ariely before his fall from grace put all his intuitively understandable psychobabble into jeopardy. You don't have to accept a psychological explanation for why people ignore or justify Wrong Things to accept that such things happen. The book is stuffed with examples from business, finance, politics where everyone worked to keep the train steaming ahead firmly not knowing "la la la can't hear you" that the bridge is out up ahead and everyone's gonna die.

Although only the see no evil monkey appears on the book's cover, there are plenty of examples inside where the problem is that everbode kno that such-a-colleague is a misogynistic bully (or whatever sin) but effectively nobode speaks up. Worse is that low-power people, including direct victims, do speak up but those who can implement change for the better wimp out of doing so. And, of course, hearing evil is the same as seeing evil

Another issue is that, even when perps are caught bang to right, there are no sanctions. Wilfully incompetent, lazy, executives still get the golden handshake and pension rights to which they are 'entitled'.  It is only rarely that corrupt practice and negligence is exposed in public tribunal - like the endless sessions about the UK governments response to CoViD-19. For every such forensic investigation, like the Finlay (blood products) Tribunal here, there will be dozens for which there is no money, no appetite, to prosecute. At least partly because, like Finlay, none of the perps were sanctioned.

Similar ideas are explored in Matthew Syed's book Black Box which is on my To Read list. One of the key problems in corporate life is groupthink, which is encouraged because executives hire people in their own image. This is the real reason why corporations and institutions should embrace multiculturalism and hire more women, minorities and foreign-johnnies. These outsiders will bring different ways-of-seeing to the table and make it more likely to flag crazy, corrupt, or contagious ideas before they get traction.

Heffernan's book is easy to read, if not easy-reading. Here's a 10 minute executive summary podcast - with transcript! And of course Heffernan has a Dare To Disagree TEDtalk, on conflict-avoidance and the necessity of talking to different-thinking people.And another TEDx on Libby MT asbestos scandal, Abu Ghraib and so on and on.

Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit über das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus. General von Moltke (1871) = No plan survives contact with the enemy.

Sunday 29 October 2023

End Oct

sho t'ing

Friday 27 October 2023


Nobody made a greater mistake than she
who did nothing because she could do only a little

Edwina Burke

We settled into a small farmstead in March 1997. Soon after, Javi appeared as a university drop out from Spain. He gave not two tosses about the Latin names of plants and their biochemistry but rather wanted to plant trees and, later, hug them; as well as growing a few veggies for soup and running a few chooks for eggs. Living in a rather salubrious suburb of Madrid didn't obviously give him elbow room to embrace The Good Life. We were looking for an au pair to help with two small kids and Javi manifested himself to be that person. After several months he returned to Spain and as I drove him to the airport I said "Thanks, you've been good for us, you've made a difference to how this project is going to go forward" and he replied "Thanks you've been good for me, you've made a difference too".  It had been a mighty year for acorns, and Javi had sprouted a few dozen of them in tetrapak milk cartons. One of the last things he did was fence off an oblong in the top garden and plant these saplings out. Several years after that, the treelets were +2m tall, and we had John the Digger grub them up (backhoe sure beats digging them up with a pick and shovel) and we replanted them in two corners of the fields. They are kinda mighty now. The one we left in place in the garden is several meters tall and 1 metre round in the bole at knee-level. 

Ten years after Javi left, the economy collapsed and we acquired a few hundred bargain basement hardwood trees. We fenced off an acre [0.4 ha.] of the field called Crowe's and planted them out. Over the next two winters we filled out the square with commercial whips of Scot's Pinus sylvestris, larch Larix europaeus, ash Fraxinus excelsior and more oak Quercus robur. Our tree-making apprenticeship with Javi was paying off. Planting all those trees was one of the best things we've done over the last 30 years and the only aspect of our lives which will still be available /visible /useful in the year 2123. Who knows but a Canticle for Leibowitz monk will be writing about Ther is a wode called Crowe.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best is today. My correspondent P has recently picked up the plant today baton in one of the most salubrious suburbs of Boston MA. The difference between Madrid and Boston is that the richest suburbs of the latter have significant chunks of real estate which are free of proles houses and a strong sense developing amenity for those wealthy enough (or were early adopters of the American dream before house-prices became silly enough) to retain a toe-hold within the Salubricity limits.

One of these spacious oases is The Wright-Locke Farm which was prised from the hands of the Massachusett people by a legal finagle in ~1638 and became the property of John Wright, whose descendants sold the title to Josiah Locke in 1800. 100 years ago, the Lockes were farming and warehousing Blue Hubbard squash [yumm yumm as L]. The Town of Winchester purchased the farm buildings and 20 acres =~ 8½ hectares (for €14 million!) and set up the non-profit Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy WLFC. 

More recently, a group of levellers GIY activists called Grow Local for the Planet have partnered with WLFC to kick-start a Miyawaki micro-forest near the Wright-Locke farm pond. They measure their tract in sq.ft. (to make it sound bigger?) but have ~6,000 sq.ft to play with. That's 10x bigger than the foot-print of our house - and nearly 4x the size of our polytunnel but . . . it's still only 5% of a hectare which is the unit which real farmers and foresters use. But as the header quote says: nobody saved the planet or saved the soul of a troubled post-industrial state by sitting their fat arse ass on the sofa moaning about the air-con.

James Lovelock's late-in-life ideal was to stop mowing and grazing the land to ensure that native, locally adapted, plants made a natural succession - grass and 'erbs . . . bushes and shrubs . . . birch and aspen . . . oak or beech mix climax forest. Why, it would only take 100-200 years. But the good people of Winchester haven't got time for that. Their project Win Fast Forest, is going to plant a lot of teeny-tiny shrubs and tree whips representing a few dozen different native species in a well-mulched soil.

Whoa! starting tomorrow Sat 28th Oct 2023 at 09:00hrs. hut! hut! people of Greater Boston: become the boots on the ground, gloves on the hand, ecowarrior that you always wanted to be. After the fireworks of the launch what Win Fast Forest really needs is the follow through to keep the plot weeded during the Spring and Summer months for the next tuthree years. Otherwise the project will be a eeeeew! riot of nettles Urtica dioica; reeds Phragmites australis; purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria and barberry Berberis vulgaris. By 2027, this month's Miyawaki planting will be strong enough and shady enough to hold its own without intensive human intervention.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Crisp t-shirt day

Last year we flagged Crisp Sandwich Day because St Crispin's Day. The event got some feedback on Metafilter. This year, TODAY is the 2nd International C.S.D., I note that there is merch! T-shirts and mugs. The t-shirt profits go to The Trussell Trust which is active in advocacy for, and feeding of, The Dispossessed across the water.

Not that we can be too smug on this side of the Irish Sea. Foodbanks, Foodcloud are necessary as the Tory-light government outsources all its responsibilities to capital: social housing, toll roads, electricity, healthcare, elder care, creches. 

But for the day that's in it: Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Sarf London, where we lay our scene, have different views on whether a)  Hula Hoops [an ad to explain the confection to USians] are food and b) whether food should be served at parties. It's interesting the differences that multi-cultural societies throw up. Note: nobody throws up in the video.

If you've never eaten a sandwich made from bread, butter and potato-chips - now might be the day.

Monday 23 October 2023

Diaper doo, nappy two

I started riffing on diapers, intending to write everything I knew, but I was caught short and launched a partial product prematurely. But nappies have been in the statistical news. In July 2023, More or Less looked closely [9min] at the assertion that more adult diapers are sold in Japan than those for babies. Because this chimes with a narrative about the aging population, and shy-breeding among 20- and 30-somethings, in that country, this 'fact' has been widely propagated.

Japanese diaper production (incl exports, hoarding etc.)


So that gives some ball-park numbers to suggest that incontinent Japanese weans are holding their own against ditto elders in a ratio of about 1 : 10. But Dr Landfill wants to factor in that baby diapers weigh [dry!!] ~18g while adult ditto come in at ~90g or 1 : 5. Nappies can absorb 20x their weight in liquid! Source "A new approach for assessing the absorption of disposable baby diapers and superabsorbent polymers: A comparative study" by Bachra et al. (2020). That's still a hella lot of organics going to landfill where they will fossilize until it becomes economic to mine the tips for aluminium drinks cans..

In June 2023 Sliced Bread [as L with Greg Foot] had a piece [29min] on reusable vs disposable nappies. The conceit of the series is to ask whether such-a-commodity is the best thing since sliced bread = SB or mere marketing bullshit BS. Often the answer is "it's not black-and-white" or "it depends". Having spent 60 years trying to push parents towards disposables, now there is a growing market in re-usable nappies.

Even here, tech has moved in. Back in our day, a nappy was a terrycloth cotton square. Cotton is rather less absorbent than help or bamboo fibre but more so that microfibre. That's a trade-off because the less absorbent materials dry quicker after washing. 

For a comparison baseline you need to know that in the 2.5 year period of birth to potty, the average infant will need 4,500 changes. 

If you're going re-usable, you need to upfront about £100 for a set of cotton diapers + £30 for a nappy-bucket to steep t'buggers until wash-day and a waterproof bag to keep them safe if you are out and about. But you can spend >£400 on well-marketed = marked-up designer nappies. And you've got to factor in the cost of washing a batch of 12-16 nappies every couple of days: at 30p for electric + 20p for metered water +30p for detergent. The all-in-cost for each change of re-usable nappy tops out at 15p a go.

Disposable nappies otoh is all about consumables rather than capital. They start at maybe 5p for an Aldi own-brand newborn size rising to 40p to put a toddler into Pampers. I suppose you should factor in the bin-charges cost of sending the one-use nappies off to landfill, but Sliced Bread didn't bother. Bottom line: re-usable nappies are about half the cost of disposables averaged over that birth-to-potty life-time.

There is a market for "eco" disposables at top-flight designer prices. But the Sliced Bread experts hold these to be a load of green-washing. They are not really better for the planet than other re-usables. The latter half of the podcast has a lot more to say about various measures of greenity and conscience-smiting for those who care about those things. Cripes, though, my memory of those diaper days is that it was work enough dealing with "leakage", Sudocrem, wet-wipes, clothes-lines, weather-watching . . . let alone "tsunamis" and "arm-pit jobs".

Sunday 22 October 2023

Cop on to yourself

Some lynx

Friday 20 October 2023

Scar tissue

Note for furriners: courgette is zucchini is calabacín is κολοκυθάκιCucurbita pepo 

If were proper scientists, rather than woo-wits gardeners and courgette fryers, we'd keep records of what-all we take from garden to kitchen. But we aren't and so we don't. It was therefore up to me to carry out a forensic post-mortem on the courgette stalks after we grubbed them up [as Lwth secateurs for scale] at the end of the 2023 season. Counting the harvest is not (solely) obsessive behaviour: it helps to plan for subsequent years. Nobody wants to be part of the annual August courgette glut when  you cannot give them away; but having one a week as a special treat is not ideal either.

On 12 Oct 23, we grubbed up all 5 of the courgette plants because a) the leaves were dusting with white fungus b) many of the courgettes which were still coming rapidly developed a squishy distal end before they were big enough to eat. Anyone who's ever grown courgettes knows that sinking feeling when, two days after a  comprehensive harvest, a full-grown marrow the size of a child's leg is discovered under a big leaf. The ideal is to have a handy couple of courgettes every day through the Summer. 

  • Sliced, fried in butter and olive oil with a bit or bread and more butter makes a fine lunch
  • Grated into a paste of spiced besan = gram-flour and water; and fried
  • Courgette fritters: with eggs, feta cheese, flour, chopped scallions, dill, parsley
  • Substituted for carrots in any recipe for carrot cake.
  • Sliced thin, served raw in a green salad

The flowers, and later the courgette, sprout from the axil of [most of] the leaves along the stalk of the growing plant. At some stage sensible people start trimming off the bigger leaves because they are attracting mould . . . and hiding those monster marrows. For forensic inventory I sat down and counted  30 + 11 + 47 + 24 +17 = 129 ± 2 from the five plants which survived to adulthood. I think we lost a couple to slugs or cut-worm when they were small. That is, and has been, about right for 3 people over the Summer: about 1-a-day since 01 Jul 23.

Did I mention 3 people? The only reason we have any courgettes this year is because Dau.II took ownership of the polytunnel and the out-door veg-beds this Spring. Starting some plants from seed, buying some plants and being gifted others. 2022, Spring planting was on me and it was an unaccountable disaster: nothing sprouted, fungus sprouted everywhere and it was highly disheartening. I have minimal resilience about such things and resolved to rely on ALDIDL for my veg. Having someone else to move things along in 2023 was just grrrrreat.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

A dip in diapers

Turns out that there are twice as many diapers on The Blob as there are nappies. One way of characterising The Blob is "his entire life in 2 millions words or 4,000 anecdotes" because whatever I'm reporting on, I try to come at it from my own experience rather than rechurning links I am delivered by Metafilter. And having raised three (3) childer to continence, I've had to deal with a lot of diapers: on dit que a child will go through 4,000 diaper changes before they stop having accidents and start using the jacks on the reg'lar. 

When I was a nipper, diapers were made of terrycloth cotton towelling. When soiled, the solids made it down the t'ilet, the nappies were dumped in a bucket of dilute bleach until wash-day when they were rinsed, washed and hung out to dry. Sunlight, and a fresh breeze helped sanitize the white cotton squares, so baby rearing was a lot easier in the Summer. Winter or wet-weather added a world of pain to the housework: pain in the arse actually because when washing diapers is so time-consuming the carer was surely tempted to let the baby steep in its own fluid for a little longer. 

Disposable nappies came on the market in 1976 or 77 at the tail end of The Boy's years of incontinence. As we chose to live in and out of a Citroën Dyane for the Summer of 1977, disposable diapers were The Biz! You need a real secure lid for the nappy-bucket. We started the Summer in terry-cloth and then discovered loss-leader new-product-push disposables in Yorkshire: game changer.

To Be Cont.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Cherish your pharm techs!

One of the many weird courses I was required to teach at The Institute in 2013 was Human Physiology for the Diploma in Pharmacy Technician Studies. Such a course is perfectly fine, maybe even appropriate for that group of students (the directly relevant material was already covered in Drug Actions and Uses); the weird bit was Me teaching it. My only qualification being, at the time, that I had a body. You may have a view on whether my lack of uterus  was an additional impediment given that 95% of the students were women.

Well today, 17th Oct 2023, is World? Pharmacy Technician Day and tomorrow I'm invited to be The Voice for a table quiz in honour of the day. I had a very expensive education which has been primarily useful in winning prizes: boxes of chocolates and wine-bottles, at pub quizzes. But I've never been the MC before. It must be my penetrating voice. Worrever. I've established that a) I don't have to makee uppy the questions b) someone else will score and sum the answers at the end of each round. It remains to be seen whether I'll get to slip into a frock with a blue conservative party rosette and give out the prizes . . . I'm willing.

We were at another event all Sunday last and on the drive home The Beloved and I were comparing and confirming diaries for the week ahead. She had the brilliant idea that, as it was Pharmacy Technician Day, she would drop some flowers and/or a box of chocs into the pharmacy which has been serving her parents for the last 30+ years. She reflected that, now her aged and everlasting father, the redoubtable Pat the Salt, is effectively house-bound, the PTs never see him. But they definitely ask after his welfare every time someone goes to collect the next hamper of meds which have been prescribed for him. That's rather sweet. I've known, and taught, and graded a lot of Pharm Techs over the last ten years. 

But they were all essential cogs in the machine of medical care in Ireland. At class and about the institute was / is about the only time I encounter Pharm Techs - except when I bought a handful of hot-water bottles in the run up to each family Christmas. But then, I have been exceptionally med free these last 50 years. IF you have been down the pharmacy collecting meds with any frequency  THEN take this advice:

drop some flowers and/or a box of chocs into the pharmacy today

because PTs are the salt of the earth and ludicrously under-paid in the topsy-turvy world we all currently inhabit.

Monday 16 October 2023


Laurie Lee walked out one midsummer morning before he was old enough to vote and shortly thereafter found himself in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. I'm not alone in finding that romantically appealing. Ten years ago, at an even younger age Dau.II left home, bundled her few traps into a handkerchief, left home and went to Dublin. Later that year she settled in Cork and started working in the catering trade. In May last year that-all fell apart and Dau.II bailed out and came home.

For us, it's a bit more positive than the old saw "Home is where they have to take you in, when you have to go". She settled back into her old room and contributed to the commonwealth. She's been making and decorating cakes since she was old enough to get her nose above the kitchen table. In Cork she learned about Arborio rice, Burritos, Camenbert, DimSum, éclairs - through book-l'arnin', by the internet and on the stove-top. On the side she has taught herself cook's french. Bring it on sez me. Dau.II cooks, we all chomp it down and I wash the dishes.  

In 2012 when I was seriously under-employed, we used, on the reg'lar, to do The Pension Run: hanging out down the Déise with her grandparents, collecting the entitlements, splurging on coffee (and an éclair for Pat the Salt), doing the messages, mowing the lawn, having a light lunch and an afternoon of day-time telly. If the tide was right and the weather not too grim, there was time for some light beach-combing also. So many perfick days. There was a reprise of those days in 2022 in this sense: we seemed to find ourselves most nights eating dinner in a row along the sofa watching Taskmaster, Richard Osman's House of Games or University Challenge on a small screen. 

We were all settling into the new normal. Adjusting to a post-pandemic world where, for e.g., we could take a ferry to The Other Island (for the first time since Feb 2020), eat in a restaurant or attend Science Café. But it is intrinsic in the new normal that no rug is stable under-foot and Dau.II got ready to fly the nest again. On Friday the Thirteenth, she set off for (dear old, drear old, drizzly) Dublin [as L from the top of a #13 bus] for another cycle of seeking her fortune. In our family, fortune is only lightly coupled with money. She found that, if you don't smoke and don't drink, andif you lucked out on a long-term rental before rentals went mental then you could survive on the minimum wage. I'm sure she'll find some place where her contributions are valued.

So of course I'm bereft. But I'm happy that she's out there walking this dark world and wide again. Her laconic comments about University Challenge or the state of the union deserve a wider audience than 'er old man.

Dent in the sofa
Where my daughter used to sit
A dent in my heart

Sunday 15 October 2023

Diwrnod Shwmae

That would be today 15 Oct 2023, when Welsh speakers encourage others to use Shwmae [in Swansea and points South] or Su'mae [in Bangor and the North] as a generic greeting [think dia dhuit or Hello] on at least one day in the year. Other news links:

Friday 13 October 2023

Why orange

My correspondent P alerted me to a new Women in STEM event which is part of the Cambridge Festival of Science, which wrapped up on 1st October . . . for this year - back in 2024. The CFoS has been running since 2007, although they may have taken some Covid gap years. It's grown in a similar way that PRIDE marches have grown - they've grown slicker and more corporate.WHEN banks and multinationals move in on an event where marginalized people had been getting together to be together - and stick it to The Man - THEN maybe it's time for reg'lar gays to stay at home? Not my dog, not my fight, but I'd be delirah if Brin&Page's Alphabet would fuck off back to Mountain View CA and let, say, Dublin's LGBT⚧QI2S+ community extend their alphabet as far as they want: rather than how far AIB can monetize it?

The Cambridge (MA!) Fest gave house room to a peculiar exhibition #IfThenSheCan where The Man sought out 120 Women in STEM, put them in a 3-D scanner and spat out a bright orange no-singing, no-dancing, no-thinking life-size acrylic printed replica. These lumps of plastic have then been shipped around the country - Dallas TX, Washington DC. Cambridge MA. Venerable science institutions like AAAS, the Smithsonian and National Geographic have lurried money into the venture. Here's what you get (if you can't afford 120 , you can negotiate a price for fewer):

Why is this a good idea? More to the point, why does this project rile me up so bad?  I'd invite you to browse through the extensive, high-production-value, site but refer you to the Terms of Use:

This Site is offered and available to users in the United States who are 13 years of age or older. By using this Site, you represent and warrant that you meet the foregoing eligibility requirement. If you do not meet this requirement, you must not access or use the Site.

So I'm already in violation and I expect to be taken away in chains by their #MonetizationPolice. Maybe that's what is triggering me? Here are four members of the #IfThenSheCan project and four members of the cast of #OrangeIsTheNewBlack. But in a massive archive cock-up, I've forgotten which is which

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Walking for others

Eeee when I were young and institutionalized, I participated in King's Walk Cancerbury. Several hundred lads between 13 and 18 walked 20 miles to raise money for "cancer". It was definitely not my idea and my activity drumming up sponsors was desultory but that community raised a chunk of money from their network. Because expensive education, some rich uncles and doting grandparents were doubtless shaken down for ££££s - not mine. This kind of charity-blagging has gotten a lot more common and I'm not particularly keen on the concept. 

We had our second family film night in Tramore at the end of last month [the first]. Only one film The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry but a hella spread of sushi from Daoti. Pilgrimage was the choice of Dau.II who had seen the trailer and concluded: it's about a scruffy old chap who goes on a long walk . . . that's my Dad. It wasn't until minutes before we tuned in that one of the party noted cw: suicide and we realized that the movie might not be a rom-com. Like Harold Fry we soldiered on regardless. 

This film is a parable for our times. There's a lot more excuse for existential dread than anyone had back in 1970 when I walked for cancer larked about and got blisters on summer bye-ways in Kent. Nina Singh playing the Girl with Blue Hair [R] tells Harold Fry that she saved her aunt from dying by giving good vibes. This gives Mr Fry the oomph to pay his respects to an old pal who is dying at the other end of England. Berwick-on-Tweed is only 8 hours away by the M5 - M42 - A1 but because impulse he elects to walk - setting out forthwith without going home to pick up his toothbrush or say goodbye to his wife.

He becomes a transitory tabloid celebrity, attracting a circus of 'lost' people who decide to travel with him in "I have his sandal" way. Eventually he shakes this ragamuffin band loose to continue his own introspective journey: meditating on the mistakes he made with his own life - especially as it involved his family. Processing grief is hard and requires compassion from those who are most damaged and least able to give. Lots to unpack, and your journey likely won't be neatly sorted by having looked at Harold Fry walking for a couple of hours.

Author Rachel Joyce BBC podcasts [27m] about the book.

Monday 9 October 2023

American Morse Code

Who knew? Not me, clearly, when I wrote about early telegraphic [=far writing] codes comparing Cooke and Wheatstone's first attempt with International Morse Code in 2019. Samuel Morse was not the onlie begetter of I.M.C. His first attempt at a single wire code which depended on the lengths of beeeeps and unbeeps for signal is shown below [source]:

The Morse code allows for combos of long beep = dash /dah , short beep = dot / ditand no beep = space. The original "American" or "railway" Code allowed for spaces within letters! I've flagged the cases of C O R n Z on the picture; HawkeYe You will soon ferret out at least one other example. It also used a long dash for L and a longer dash for 0=zero. 

Friedrich Clemens Gerke [who he? never 'eard of him?? - me neither], employed by der Electro–Magnetischen Telegraphen–Compagnie in Hamburg, gave Morse's code a significant make-over, changing about half the letters and allowing a) no intra-letter spaces b) only dits and dahs [which were 3x dits] and spaces. Gerke's code was accepted / mandated by the Deutsch-Oesterreichischer Telegraphenverein in 1851 and by the new International Telecommunication Union in 1865 as Continental or International Morse Code, which we know today. In the USA, it proved surprisingly hard for International Morse to get traction. This was partly from inertia and vested interest, esp with Western Union and the Railways, but also because with more dits and fewer dahs, transmission rates were faster for American Morse. See also inches and pounds, Stateside.

Nobody knows - I can't easily discover - why Morse came up with that particular arbitrary encoding. Like you can see the ghost of the traditional alphabet on the middle line ASDFGHJKL of a qwerty keyboard, there is some logic / inherent efficiency in that common letters ETAOIN tend to have shorter encodings: E • T - A •- O --- I •• N -• - although O is the exception to this rule. John Cooke has done an actual analysis of this to find that International Morse is about 93.5% efficient based on a large corpus of English words. Cranks who want to change Morse code for efficiency thus have their work cut out.

Dylan Beattie started me off down this rabbit'ole. With an update of his NDC talk about Plain Text, whc prev.

Sunday 8 October 2023

Son Mahon stairs

Bob's bits & bobs

Saturday 7 October 2023

October Mystery Object

My Robopals at Lenehans have me on their ¡bargain! mailing list. It's kinda fun as an insight into what late-stage capitalism is thrashing the planet to death about. This week included this not-an-eggtimer which Marketing had an inflated view of what the Market Plain People of Ireland would bear. Inventory are trying to shift a pallet of these:

WTF can it be? There is no indication of scale and I've removed the brand-name; although I suspect that name is a Lenehans knock-off label like Aldi's Bramwell's [so British] or Lidl's Gianni's Gelatelli's [sooo Italian].

Answer tomo! With a €10 Tat Voucher!!

Friday 6 October 2023

Rosie coloured glasses

In June 2004 I turned 50 and retired again. In July my twin sister got married again.  My retirement plans centred on a long walk in Spain - continuing a long walk through Portugal which was the outcome of my previous retirement. I was, and am, amazed that I walked 700+800 km on my own feet in more or less the same direction. The concept was not original to me and I took some inspiration from Patrick Leigh Fermor's 1934 leg-stretcher from Hoek van Holland to Byzantion and Laurie Lee's from Vigo to Almuñécar in 1935. Thing is that, in the 1930s, it was unexceptional for people to walk - to market, to school, to work. Two generations later, walking was performative rather than normal. Walking in the 1980s or 2000s was thing in itself rather than a means to an end. 

I am not the only one whose compass has been set by the bucolic romanticism of Cider with Rosie and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. In 2012, Paul Murphy's wife walked out on him and after a brief stint of I'm going home to mother, he rocked up on a hillock outside of Vigo in Galicia with the intention of dogging the footsteps of young Laurie all the way to Almuñécar in Andalusia.  The result of these walks [like me be broke trek in the middle of each] is As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee which is an extraordinarily pedestrian, explicit, appalling title for what is an interesting book. Part of Murphy's trek-brek was spent hunkered down in Kilrane, Co Wexford: his father's home place.

Footsteps travel writing is definitely A Thing: too many people find so little meaning in their own lives that they have to trudge, like the poor bloody page of King Wenceslas, in the footsteps of their betters others. In Footsteps books the lives of the author and the object of their admiration inevitably become entwined. {Thoreau | Kerouac | Stevenson's Donkey} was in - consults text -{Concord | Cascades | Chasserades} on such a date; I am here now - how am I feeling? Probably not great by comparison?? Because nobody, not even stalkers, dog the footsteps of dull ordinary people. And for the original book all the dull stuff is left on the cutting room floor.

At the end of AIWOTSISOLL, there are 3 full pages acknowledging people who have helped the author over the line with this book but it could still do with tighter editing. 

p.124: The paths of Lee and Freud were to follow similar lines over the next few years after Lorna inevitably discarded Freud and went back to Wish and Yasmin and her other neglected children. Lee and Freud would both go on to marry a Garman sister's niece: Kathy for Lee and Kitty for Freud. Lee also managed to sleep with Kitty before Freud cam on the scene.

p.157: Lee considered first killing Freud and Lorna and then his thoughts turned to suicide. Lucian himself was then rejected for a younger model and threatened to kill Lorna with a gun. Both suitors recovered and some years later each marry one of Lorna's nieces - Kathy for Le, Kitty for Freud. Not before, by the way, Lee had bedded Kitty and moved on quickly.

Lucian Freud's grandfather Sigmund might have something to say about how incestuous this tangle was; but surely one of those acknowledged manuscript readers could have merged these two descriptions into one and decided which chapter to put it in.The duplication is really not fair on this two week ten page event-horizon reader: it made me wonder if my book-mark has gone rogue and/or I'm losing my marbles. If you live near Stroud, Vigo, Almuñécar or Kilrane OR you're a LaurieLee fan - this book is worth your time.

Here's Murphy's daughter Daniella singing a tribute Stone Shaped Locket to his pilgrimage.

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Gedogen gezellig

Years and years ago, I secured [nepotism alert: my sister was proper working in the London office] a Summer job at TimeLife books in Amsterdam. We were planning on camping [with The Boy aged 5½] to save money. But one day when I was at work, The Beloved wandered into town and saw a small ad for a sub-let in a student residence on Prinzengracht. We paid the young feller for his room for July and August and he buggered off to Greece. Evenings and weekends we rattled around in an almost empty complex of bedsits with communal bathroom, kitchen and day-room. But the thing is, that building was a few doors down from the Anne Frank Stichting in the very centre of Amsterdam. There were even fly-screens on the windows to hold back the midges that swarmed up from the canal in the evenings. It was so long ago that we could even park our well-worn Citroën Dyane on the quayside below our window. It was gezellig: quietly wonderful just to walk over the little bridges, looking at every day Amsterdam - its houseboats and bicycles and flowers and cafés.

My pal D recently told me I had to read Amsterdam: a history of the World's most liberal city by Russell Shorto. Possibly because he remembered a weekend he spent visiting us in that city 40 years ago. Shorto comes from New York, formerly known as Amsterdam in Nieuw-Nederland, but has lived and worked the last several years in the original Amsterdam and this book is a tribute to the city which has taken him to its bosom and is the birthplace of his son-and-heir. Amsterdam's golden age, which spanned the first ¾ of the 17thC, overlapped with the Eighty Years War of independence and interdependence of the Dutch provinces from the rule of the Hapsburgs. It used to be called the Golden Age because the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie VOC [bloboprev] brought fabulous wealth from the Far East back to investors and this geld trickled down to local craftsmen [Huygens], artists [Rembrandt, Vermeer], scientists [van Leeuwenhoek] and petty industrialists. Golden Age is now deprecated, because slavery.

Shorto suggests how wresting dry land from estuarine slobs and salt-marsh required communal effort and that that working shoulder-to-shoulder on a mighty infrastructural project cemented the community by their common energy. But, in contrast to the builders of the great cathedrals or workers on existing land, the common dry-ground was parcelled out to each participant as a personal domain. Because no Bishop or Prince was involved in the transaction, democracy of a sort was born in the creation of the polders. Democracy which allowed and valued private enterprise and the liquidity of capital.

That mutual respect was accompanied by a tolerance for the neighbours involving turning a blind eye to their non-treasonable transgressions. It became increasingly okay if the folk in the house next door went to a different church or no church at all; what they ate, how much they drank and how they spent their disposable income was a private matter. Gedogen is the word coined for this nodding tolerance for activities that are formally illegal - selling maryjane in cafés being the most notable modern example; or kraken squatting in unused buildings at the end of the 20thC. I think Shorto makes a bit too much about the historical inevitability of our Amsterdam growing from the Amsterdam of Rembrandt.

Another theme that runs through the book is series of interviews with Frieda Menco-Brommet, a neighbour of Shorto's and of Anne Frank's back in the day. Her experience of being rounded up and sent to Auschwitz . . . and surviving into the 21stC don't explain how and why 75% of Amsterdam's Jews died in the War [much more proportionately than Belgium, France or Germany] despite the 'tolerance for neighbours' which applied to other sections of society. The last event in the book is when Shorto introduces his infant son to the 90-something Mvr. Menco; the chap won't remember but he'll be told that he touched the hem of history - so there is that.

Monday 2 October 2023


A swatch of my family spent August up in Ullapool in Scotland. All the under-30s went on a day trip crossing The Minch Skotlandsfjörð to Stornaway, Lewis out in the Hebrides. They were hoping to see whales but were disappointed in that; although none of them lost their lunch - so that's a win. The CalMac schedule only left them ½hr in Stromness - enough to run up to touch the Town Hall door; but not time to snag a scotch pie from The Big Bite on Point St. Later that week, on the Mainland, they were able to pick up some Scots edibles including a packet of "Highland Crackers, Original Seeded". I won't say that these are better than anything you can buy in Ireland, but they're crisp and not wafer-thin and salty in a good way.

As an intellectual, I am obliged to read the packet, which is often revealing about the trade-off between taste, transport, and shelf-life. Here is the Table of Contents / allergens.

Orkney beremeal (barley flour - gluten) (20%), wholemeal spelt (gluten) flour, wheat flour (gluten fortified with calcium carbonate, iron, niacin and thiamin), butter (cow's milk), Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil (10%), linseed (10%), sesame seeds (5%), malted wheat grains, sunflower seeds (2%), malted barley (gluten) flour, ground peppercorns, sea salt, malted rye (gluten) grains, pumpkin seeds. Here's a peculiarity for obsessives: 'tis me who has added the red gluten after wheat. I wrote to the company to suggest that, in the next print run for packaging, they specify the nature of the allergen for each of the four grassy species (barley wheat spelt rye) of the ingredients. And yes, spelt Triticum spelta will trigger gluten intolerance, despite what some woo-folk assert.

Beremeal is flour made from bere [R] a six-row barley Hordeum vulgare grown in diminishing quantities, mainly on Orkney. Bere is adapted for the poor, acid soils of the north and is remarkable for its short "90-day" growing season. 70% of all barley grown on these islands goes to animal feed, almost all the rest is malted for beer or its more potent derivative, whiskey. Barley bannocks used to be the staple food of those who only grew wheat for cash or for The Laird. Bere is mostly ground in The Barony (water) Mill at Birsay. Barley-meal really doesn't hold together as well as wheat flour and weaker gluten means that barley bread is barely riz. I'm glad bere is now getting niche use in these fancy crackers - at £30/kg they are about the same price as smoked salmon.

Sunday 1 October 2023

Sun Moon and Ewes

Very misc for 1st Deireadh fómhair