Wednesday 29 November 2023


When I was, say, 9 y.o., I was able to pee twice as high as my head [prev]. I was reflecting on this because it was the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy last Wednesday 22 Nov 2023. My contribution to the MeFi debate about Conspiracy was "On 22 Nov 1963, 4700mi ENE of Dallas, 9½ y.o. me had just gone to bed but was re-woken with the news that President Kennedy had been shot. I started to internalize 3 letter acronyms TLA the next day JFK LBJ CIA FBI . . . RFK MLK." The reason we got the hot press news within an hour of the event at a country boarding school on a different continent is because one of the chaps went for a leak after lights-out and must have encountered a news-appraised teacher in the hallway.

We had more plumbing adventures a fortnight ago. There was a puddle on the floor beside the downstairs jacks - because the ballcock was not completely shutting off the inlet valve. I called Roy the Plumber and described the issue / discharge / problem. He took a quick look and then said "You need a new t'ilet; this one is 25 years old; we / I could replace the ball-cock and valve; but that cistern is too small to take the modern version; if I replace the cistern there is bound to be a leak between it and the toilet . . . it only works to my guarantee If we replace the whole caboodle". So I agreed and put a bucket under the leak; resolving to empty it every other day. But in the interim between nting the leak and buying the preferred toilet set things got A Lot worse. The ball-cock dislocated itself at the shoulder, floated free and we had a macro-leak. The washing-machine was in mid-cycle, so I preferred not to cut off the water at the mains. I flushed to reduce the water-level and rushed to the tool-shed for a replacement pin to reconnect the arm with the valve. After a predictable amount of splashy-splashy, I punched out the last fragment of [plastic!] pin and whanged in my replacement.

. . . and it worked! Not only to stem the current gush but also to stop the previous drip-drip leak. Seems that the crappy plastic pin which had held the system together for +25 years had fractured so that the ball-cock pressed on the shut-off button at an oblique angle and therefore could . not . get . it . completely . SHUT. Things had to get worse to get better in this case. I can afford to buy a new toilet if I need to but I'd rather keep the existing one out of land-fill if possible.

Back to meeeee! I am not always 100% on top of the plumbing sphincters but I can, for example, reliably wake up at night and get to the bathroom. Yes there are two - internal IUS and external EUS - urethral sphincters [L]: one up one down of the prostate. [much more information on the anatomy than you need] The external lad is skeletal = voluntary muscle, while the internal one is standard smooth muscle under the unconscious autonomic nervous system. Occasionally, acting on internal signals, my conscious self get the "need to pee" message and head out through the drizzle for the compost heap. On arrival, the goddam internal sphincter, which has been holding on manfully, will announce "arrived at destination!" let go before the rest of the apparatus is out of the fly ready to fly. It's where Free Will meets free willy! Emergency clench by the external sphincter is often not quick enough: so tinkle leakage. 

I guess it's why they let lecturers retire in their 60s. It's all very well for Leopold Bloom "Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine" to have a whiff of pee about him. But no fair on 20-somethings having to get up close and personal with a leaky lecturer during a physics lab? In a 9 y.o. that detrusor muscle is a powerful thing hence the pee to a great height Olympics in school bathrooms . . . in an old chap, no so much.

Monday 27 November 2023

Stuff and Allen

Did I mention that we were all up in Dublin recently? I did! I surely did! As well as being requested and required to make enough K'roti to feed a family of refugees for a month, we were also asked to come by car in order to repatriate some surplus bulk goods from the melded households of Dau.I and Dau.II: an ironing board w/o a cover, another cheese-grater etc.

One thing that came back was a small box full of miscellaneous stationery / houseware. The pritt-stick turned out to be a desiccated fossil but the box of misc nails, hooks and screws will get used eventually about the home-place. The dozen [Ikea] Allen keys not so much? Except as Art [R]! Because, like every household in the Western world, I already have an extensive collection of Allen keys.

Remember that famous story about the new airline executive who saved the company his salary by removing one olive from each First Class in-flight salad. Some Ikea exec is going to have a similar epiphany on including an Allen key with each and every flat-pack. They do not, for example, include any spare screws for the klutzy customer who opens the packet and has one screw skitter across the floor and disappear down the heating register. The Allen argument will be that a) everyone will be able to find a suitable Allen key in the MiscStuff drawer in their kitchen b) the company is saving $40,000 adjusted for inflation since 1987.

Remember the 1990s, when every big-assed desktop home computer came with a package of floppy-disks CDs holding the operating system including a spell-checker for Bulgarian. And a chunky manual to explain how to get work out of your new toy after you switched it on. I learned and internalized a lot of keyboard shortcuts from carefully reading the Manual which came with early installs of MS-Word. CDs and manuals cost a single olive money to ship, so suppliers long ago started to lay-off the cost on the internet.  Allen keys are still breeding and propagating though! Hat Tip to William G Allen of Hartford CT who invented the hex-key of which we all have too many.

Sunday 26 November 2023

Nolink November


Friday 24 November 2023

Triumph of the Free Will

I'm not stupid, but I've definitely worked in places where I was not the smartest person in the room. In the early 90s, I was contributing to the birth of bioinformatics in Trinity College Dublin. Our lab acquired a final year project student who, on the side, used to devise crossword puzzles for the magazine his aunt edited and played contract bridge for Ireland. In contrast to me, in the same department 15 years earlier, he secured a First.  He went to America for his PhD and was peer-reviewed top-listed for one of the five first multi-million Big Biotech grants after the 2000AD foundation of Science Foundation Ireland SFI. That quango cravenly refused to cough up and start his proposal because he was too young. The country is lucky he's not now making waves at Stanford or Yale but is indeed back in TCD cutting edges at the interface of neuro and genetics.

Who dat? It's Kevin Mitchell, assoc prof of [neuro]genetics at TCD. We've met him before. In addition to teaching and research and raising a family, Kevin has also made time [like Luther he can do no other] to write books for Princeton UP. Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are (2018) and this year Free Agents: How Evolution Gave Us Free Will (2023). I was at the launch of the most recent book [what's not to like when free canapés meet with free travel?] and shelled out a pony to bring a copy home. Pony? That's Buridan's Ass [L] unable to choose between two equally delectable choices.

Can't afford €25? Free Agents is in many Libraries. Can't make the time? Nigel Warburton hosts another debate about free will. 'Is Free Will An Illusion?', joined by psychologist Susan Blackmore and Kevin Mitchell -only 40 mins. Blackmore has acquired interesting baggage on the nature of reality by practicing Zen for 40 years as well as being a skeptic and free-thinker.

Free Agents reads easy, although the middle chapters have a lot of '$10 words' [like salient, instantiate, reify] not always with an appropriate gloss for those who missed out on a very expensive education. Each chapter is split into bite-sized chunks with a helpful contents label. Chapter 4 Life Gets Complicated, for example: The Energy Barrier - E pluribus unum - Big Hungry Beasts - La Familia - Coordinating Movement with Electricity - Neurons - Hail Hydra! - As the Worm Turns - Summary. As you see, a mix of informative with whimsical and assuming that everyone clocks the cultural references . . . and knows the rudiments of Latin. Thus p.75: "Like the Borg in Star Trek, these individuals get assimilated into a collective. It's not just that resistance is futile: it's pointless".  I've only a sketchy idea of what/who/where/when are the Borg [Χ]; resistance is futile is lifted from h2g2 [✓] but I doubt if pointless is referencing Richard Osman's gameshow [Χ]. Comms Fail w.r.t. to me = 2/3, so!

I hope it's a conscious, freely-chosen hat-tip to Robert Heinlein when Mitchell outlines the huge range of things a primate could do after breakfast. It could climb a tree, search for grubs, scratch itself, groom another monkey, look for a mate, go to sleep, bang some rocks together, jump up and down, poke itself in the eye, urinate, start a fight, wave its arms around, stick a pebbles up its nose, eat some dirt, screech . . . and not a lot different from a Man from the West as imagined by O'Grady and Pyke.

I have a lot of respeck for Kevin Mitchell. His book is an attempt to defuse the hot button topic of Free Will by dissing the  black and white  thinking and entrenchments which are normal in the field. Robert Sapolsky [bloboprev] is the latest big hitter to book-bat for No Free Will. Harris Hegel Hobbes and Hume have all had a go, and that's just the Hs! It takes confidence to go public in such august company.

Of course we all have baggage:

  • they fuck you up, your Mum and Dad
  • all of us have taken a tonk to the head at some stage
  • we were [not] bullied in school
  • we've had a couple of pints
  • or an argument at work.

Whatever life throws up [bloooargh!] we still get out of bed most mornings and make decisions. Some of those decisions are on autopilot: involving only a tad of conscious thought; but others are life changing for us or those around us. For Mitchell [and for me as I fire my fan-boy knickers on stage] choice, agency, decisions, Will are on a continuum of constraint: some lock-and-loaded by our autonomic nervous system; some almost a dice-throw; some the product of deep thought and rationalization. That this accords with our humble not-an-intellectual lived experience doesn't make it less true . . . whatever nifty neuro-psychological experiments may tell us.

It doesn't help that there has been A Lot of recent side-eye towards iconic experiments which purported to expose how the human mind thinks. Too many:

  • studies with fatuously small samples;
  • W.E.I.R.D. volunteer participants;
  • crappy stats;
  • shameful nod-through referees (this comes from Harvard: must be sound) of papers;
  • wishful thinking;
  • outright fudged data-sets

Mitchell and Sapolsky have their stalls compared on the pages of "Yes, We Have Free Will. No, We Absolutely Do Not". Here they biff it out toe-to-toe split-screen on Philosophical Trials.  I've bought Sapolsky's book - it seemed to demand parity of esteem with Mitchell's - which comes to the opposite conclusion about Free Will. I really don't think I have the energy to read it anytime soon. Although I got a lot out of his last book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. Here's the thing, we all feel that we have free-will, we behave as if we do, our legal system and society itself are predicated on it. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and doesn't sink in water . . . then it's a duck we have free will. Clever Free Will is Bunk people are retreating from this common sense, common knowledge; redefining free-will, separating it from agency, and dickering about several incommensurate versions of determinism as they circle their waggons of certainty. Me, I'm 300 pages down on Free Will and right now frankly Scarlett about the whole debate. I'm outside that intellectual waggon corral, dancing with bison and freeeeeee.

For all you biological determinists out there, remember there is, even at this moment, a butterfly in Haiti stamping its foot saying "I refute it thus"!

Q? why oh why do we need to know that John "Inequalities"  Bell [no relation!] was born in Belfast and not be given parity of birth insight to John Nash, John von Neumann, Jean "Ass" Buridan or Hans Jonas?
A! because none of the other Johns wear the green jersey. By flag-wagging the sole Irish contributor to the book's bibliography, Ireland's collective deep thinking capacity is rather diminished than bigged up.

Lynn "Endosymbiosis" Sagan shd not be "née Margulis", she was née Alexander. Carl Sagan was her first husband, Thomas Margulis her second. Ask me how I know.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Growing a smallholder

Just finished earbooking Kurt Timmermeister's memoir How To Grow a Farmer. KT started off running a famous Seattle hang out called Cafe Septieme. He took care of his employees and served lattes and brioche. In 1990, although his business was going really well, he wanted to dig deeper into the food business - more pasture and less plate. He contacted a realtor on Vashon Island [R] and fell in love with 4½ acres = 2 ha. of brambly jungle surrounding a dilapidated chicken coop and bought his weekend getaway before property prices went mental.

There is nobody on the planet who is less capable of running a small-holding than me, but we've been pursuing a similar fantasy over more or less the same time-scale; more or less the same distance South of Dublin as Vashon is from Seattle.  I coulda been a contender: I coulda grown baby lettuce and shipped them to City restaurants at dawn. But I was /am a) risk averse b) undriven c) better at computers than carrots. Timmermeister is the opposite on all these axes. His farmlet has more than doubled in size and he's tried all kinds of ways to make it pay. But he's been at the other end of transactions as a restauranteur and is sensitive to what the market will bare. Industrial veg, grown at scale and picked by The Undocumented, is not as healthy or as tasty as his dew-picked sustainable produce. But many retailers will judge that industrial is good enough for at least some of the stuff they purvey. Home grown tarragon is more likely to get a reasonable return on the growers time, potatoes not so much. Honey, hams, and harissa fall in between these extremes.

Chapter 4 documents KT's journey with bees make honey. His version seems quite capital intensive, each Spring he orders up a nuke from a wholesaler in Iowa. The bees go to work, KT provides a place to store the honey, in supers as the original frames get filled. But he has no compunction about taking all the honey at season's end because he has no intention of sustaining the colonies through the wet cold Seattle winter. It is more cost effective to start afresh each year with a new queen and a few handfuls of workers. On the basis of this report on the beekeeper's lived experience I was going to rec the book to The Beloved who has aspirations (and all the kit) to embrace apiculture.

Whoa! A later chapter goes into a similar level of >!TMI!< detail about home-butchery. For sheep and small goats, it is possible to kill, flay and butcher the beast with just yourself, a rifle and a very sharp knife. For 220lb = 100kg hog, let alone an adult cow, you really need help. I'm just too young (and toooo middle-class) to have lived in a culture which fattened, slaughtered, butchered and salted a pig or two each year. KT, likewise; but after one of his milch-cows broke a leg in the pasture and the mobile butcher was about as unavailable as our dentist, he learn on the hoof and had a stab at saving the carcass. It was a lot more trouble to dig a massive hole to bury poor Daisy.

Nowadays, KT and his pals make a meitheal of it. He has built up a network of trusted friends who will rock up on a designated winter Saturday and fall to. Each person owns a subset of the tasks required and the rest of the team trust that feller not to screw up. All the tasks are essential in that failure to do that thing with timely resolution will make everything a lot more difficult for everyone else. One of the team is designated blood-boy, for example, they have to get a bucket under the upended hog to catch the makings of black-pudding. At the other end, bum-boy is required (really sharp knife in skilled hands wanted) to cut  r o u n d  the anus and tie off the gut inside of the sphincter. A mis-nick there and coliforms are everywhere - perhaps irrecoverably. 

There is discussion about whether children should be present at any or all of this process. Nobody asked that question hereabouts in 1954! Killing Betsy was a routine, and relished, part of the farming year. There was no place for passengers. If you wanted bacon on your plate, you had to help put it there. If kids nowadays are too squeamish to see a chicken killed, then it's fine to go vegetarian. Indeed we should all go vegetarian. Shrink-wrapped pink slabs in Tesco hides a world of pain, exploitation and abuse.

I really enjoyed this as audio; reader is Ax Norman.

Monday 20 November 2023

Going electric

We live remote, but we also live disconnected: don't go to Mass, don't go to the pub, so we get the gossip (and the funerals) a fortnight too late. A new chap has blown into the valley and it's been on my mind to call in with a slab of flapjacks to say hi-and-welcome. But it never happens. Turns out he's an engineer with a grá for solar energy, batteries and electric vehicles AND he's running a course on those matters sponsored by the ETB = Educ Training Bd. Because of isolationism, I missed the first [Solar] and second [Storage] sessions but made the third about electric vehicles.

The market is really moving [ho ho] and what I "knew" even 5 years ago is irrelevant today. In 2014, I ran a conference at The Institute, and one of the participants asked if there was an e-car charging point on campus. I didn't laugh in his face, but the question was so far ahead of the curve as to be science fiction in the Irish Midlands. And, no there were no charge points on campus: for an Institute of Technology, it was galling how the cheese-paring administration stifled any of the will to innovate or lead the technological way for the community. In my 2014,5,6,7 head, the price of a modest electric car was €40,000 compared to the €6,000 which I'd paid recently for my little red Yaris aka does-the-job commute car. Accordingly I continued to drive the Yaris.

Seems that, because the steep decline in e-costs, the tipping point [petrol v elect] price for wheels is going to happen in 2026. Silence SO4 costs €17K today! Thereafter e-cars are going to be cheaper to buy . . . as well as saving the poor weeping planet and its poor coughing asthmatics. And improved tech is going to accommodate a wider cruising range for each battery-fill. But the reality is that current tech serves the real world pretty well even now. My commute to work was 40km there and 40km back: well within the capacity for charging at residential prices at home.

The charging network infrastructure in Ireland [and Britain] is woeful! Not only is it a long way between points but also the charge point is likely to be banjaxed when you arrive. But with planning, you can drive across the country topping up as you go. When we lived in NL in the 80s, there was a public service announcement regularly on the wireless: "twee uur rijden; kwart uur rust": every 200km you should be stopping for tea and a pee and a stretch. Charging tech is trending towards customer convenience so much that it is now almost possible to plug into a 350kW charger and get enough juice to take your car to the next station 200km further down the turnpike. When you're gonna need another stop anyway to shed the last load of tea. One of the lads on the course answered my €€? question by sharing that the station at Arklow - halfway to Dublin - sells car-charge at 86c/kWh compared to 34c/kWh at home. That's a mark-up but still competitive with petrol prices.

As the talk went on I had a peculiar fantasy about The Pony Express where the cargo [letters and one rough rider] discarded one exhausted horse at the end of each section of the route and jumped on another nag for the next leg. IF, charging was going to delay progress beyond tea-break time THEN why not swap out the tired battery and plug another full-charged one in. Because <ahem!> LiO car batteries weigh in at 400kg! Better to keep transferring electrons, boys, much less likely to induce a hernia. But check out the SO4 video two paragraphs ago. That is powered by a pair of batteries [R] which come with wheels and a handle so it can be removed from the car and swapped taken into your 3rd floor flat for charging.

All kinds of nifty ideas are ready for implementation. Why not start charging cars-at-home at 0200hrs when the grid is cold - that will help even out the load:

The power-stations have to work 24 hours a day but it helps if anything that can draw load at off-peak times does so. BUT, human anxiety wants to be able to get to the hospital, the ice-cream parlor or the down-town riot at a moment's notice; therefore a) charge the car to 50% capacity as soon as you get home and b) fill it up later when electricity is half price. Obvs this, or any other preference, can be programmed into the system without requiring addition agency by the shagged out office-worker kicking back in front of the telly with a couple of beers and a pizza.

Next week: purchasing power of a community embracing solar all together!

Sunday 19 November 2023


This year, we're already 4 storms down [Agnes 27Sep, Babet 16Oct, Ciarán 02Nov, Debi 13Nov] in less than 3 months with Debi blowing through last Sunday night but tracking more or less N of us and heading for Scotland today. Ciarán skirted the coast to the South and heading up La Manche. The Atlantic is so fizzy hot that this Winter we're expecting at least some of Elin, Fergus, Gerrit, Henk, Isha, Jocelyn, Kathleen . . .

Friday 17 November 2023

Brady punch

Our central underfloor heating failed irretrievably many years ago, so it's work to be comfortable downstairs except in high summer. Accordingly, when Dau.II was resident up till recently a) she'd cook dinner b) choose entertainment and c) we'd sit in a row on the broken sofa eating a) and watching b). One season of Taskmaster featured Fern "never 'eard of 'er" Brady oh naaaw a Scots writer and stand-up hailing from Bathgate. There are quite nice sections of Bathgate, which is about halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but Fern grew up dispossessed in the other part. Being assigned female at birth AFAB is a known handicap but happy girls can make the best of it by conforming to gender expectations: following the right bands, reading the right [fashion] mags, putting out . . . without, like, being a slag aboot it, getting married before falling pregnant and changing your fuckin' name while you're about it. Young Fern couldn't do any of that because she was autistic, so couldn't process the social cues to know what the expectations were, let alone sink her individual self to follow along. As a small child bright lights, cheap fabric, challenging food, pretty much any unexpected change in routine; were any-and-all of them likely to trigger a meltdown. A meltdown was likely to involve a lot of screaming, punching doors and stuff-destruction. The sharp-object self-harm came later.

As you may imagine, this was a massive pain in the tits for everyone in young Fern's orbit notably her nuclear family who had their own issues with social and financial deprivation. Aside from the challenged and challenging social issues, everyone recognised that Fern was bright as a button and read a lot of books. With increasing self-awareness, Fern was better able to conform to expectations by aping what went down in stories. She couldn't read faces or body-language or exclusionary codes but books taught her what to do - sort of - almost within the normal range - when in company. Of course, in a just society, Fern's divergence would have been recognized by her family, help would be at hand from competent social workers and psychiatrists, and accommodation could be sought. In Bathgate in the 90s? not so much. Or maybe not: her findings are that GPs are hopeless at coping with mental illness especially autism in females. And psychiatrists are not much better - perhaps because [see category binning in para below] autism is for boys. 19 y.o. tiktokers are the GoTo source for information and strategies because it is their lived experience.

How do I know all this about "never 'eard of 'er" ? Because, again on Dau.II's rec, I've just finished Strong Female Character, Fern Brady's interim autobiography. Interim? because she's still 30-something and we expect further great things from her. As a comic in Britland, the big break-through comes when you can land a few panel-show gigs on the TV. Everyone in media is for diversity but the hiring-and-firing still rests in the hands of left-leaning Oxbridge establishment types. You might think - see Venn diagram above - that Brady would conveniently tick a few div-boxes but it turns out to be an embarrasse de richesse. To play the Scots card you have to have a North Brit accent but the limited imagination of BBC directors second-guessing the expectations of the Great British Public needs the token Scot to be also overweight and boozy. Brady also plays an LGBT+ hand, but all BBC gays are either campy chaps or brosse-haired dykes - anything else provokes cognitive dissonance and makes the [Oxford-imagined] audience uncomfortable. Women can be a bit sweary but they defo have to larf at the blokey-jokers.

By reading a lot of a wide variety of books for social cue clues and with careful coaching from Conor, her Irish feller, Fern has been able to crack the code and burst through the glass-ceiling . . . to capture a spot on Taskmaster. It has been hard work. Richard Herring [BA Oxon. 1989] asks about that. Oli Dugmore [BSc Cardiff 2015] at Politics Joe ranges wider on inclusion and stereotyping. As Michael Rosen and Richard Osman concluded [last para], you can rise to the top as a mediocrity IF you went to Cambridge. If you [had to] work as a stripper to put yourself through college THEN you have to be The Best and work hard to get a seat in the recording studio.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

What shall be saved?

Did I mention doom-scrolling about the seismic shenanigans near Grindavík on the Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland? I did. And not that Iceland, Dr Hilarious! It's been clear for a couple of years now, that tectonic plate grinding has stepped up a notch in Reykjanes. It was only when the best geological data and their interpretation indicated an evacuation in the middle of the night that international media started to notice. Metafilter was ahead of the curve and our hands have been held there by a native Viking by name Kattullus, altho he is currently resident in Finland.

One of the boots-on-the-ground journalists has been Jón from The Reykjavik Grapevine, who has been getting as close to The Grindavík epicentre as the authorities will allow. On Tuesday, 3 whole days since the emergency evacuation, residents were allowed back to their homes for salvage / triage. On the assumption that the whole town, or at least their own neat home and garden, could be  obliviated in a few minutes of hot-rock encounter. Young Jón was in the privileged, ringside, position of having his own parents retired to spend the twilight of their years in . . . Grindavík! Accordingly the took their pace in a long queue of traffic heading back into the ghost town to salve a) his uncle's car b) whatever his parents could fit in their car. They had been ahead of the posse at the end of the last week because they elected to leave before they had to leave and so had a bit more calm time to process the decision-making process. They also possessed a car-trailer! And a son with his own gaff a long way from the pulsing magma chamber that threatened to destroy everything they owned.

Having this second chance to retrieve tier-two chattels put me in mind of my favorite apocalypse book The Day of the Triffids. For 12 y.o. me, the best part is when they find a three-ton truck, drive up to the loading dock of a big department store and have to decide what to take. Jón's folks have already off-sited the photo-albums remember. It's interesting that the first thing to negotiate is broken glass in the hallway - evidence of earthquake. Then we see two of them carrying out a bed-sized TV screen and squeeze that in their hatchback. A neighbour drives by with a mountain bike on the roof-rack; another trots out of his home with a suitcase. The poignancy of the situation is captured by a zoom in on a couple of handwritten notices stuck in street-facing windows: Engi Her í Húsinu [Nobody at home] and Farin [Gone!].

I can't criticize anyone here. It's 2 months shy of 30 years when I had a few minutes to make a night-time decision about what stuff to save from an incipient conflagration. I saved two horses and one desktop computer. 

Update 0920: same day yesterday at 3pm, the newly installed SO2 gas detectors in Grindavík went off with a whoop and the police and civil defense evacuated the last 90 folks in town . . . in 95 seconds. You may fantasize about out-running lava but you can't event see SO2 [tho you sure as heck can smell it] so you might be running straight into a ground hugging pocket of the stuff. Remember Lake Nyos? Same principle. Sulphur dioxide boils out of magma solution as the pressure drops so its presence topside indicates magma nearer the surface.

Monday 13 November 2023

Brash-hammock put to bed

In June last year we engaged Mrs Bun the Baker Kiwi Sean the Forester for the first thinning of our 1 acre = 0.4 ha. oak-and-other micro-forest. Two days work was enough to put manners on the wood and give the best chance for the best trees. It is policy to plant whips close together to force them to fight each other for light and grow up straight and true. After 15, or better 20, years the best are selected - all very Darwinian. A few thinning cycles later, "we" will be left with maybe a dozen mighty oaks and an thin understorey of fungus and shrubbery. That's "we" in a dynastic sense because it's likely I'll only see the next thinning before pushing up daisies m'self.

Sean left the triage to me. Something should be left for the fungi and microbes to break down and make food for the alpha-oaks. And some of the twigs were too twiggy to handle. In a commercial setting, we would have put all the small stuff through a chipper to max-out the surface area, greatly reduce the volume, and speed up the rot. I'm generally too mean to hire a chipper; preferring to process the brash over many subsequent days and save anything fatter than two fingers for the stove.  In one part of the wood, I created a brash-hammock of this kindling: suspending a lot of straight-enough, thick-enough branches off the ground to dry out.

'Tis the season to be burning. I was making a tour of inspection in Crowe's Wood a tuthree weeks ago and noted that some of the hammock wood was bright with white fungus and some was bright green with moss and some was regrettably black looking. The black bits were associated with little clots of leaf-fall which had acted as a sponge, slowing down the rain-water which was meant to run straight through the hammock.

The Blob has mentioned tool-use by non-human primates a) termite-picker b) status-booster. One other documented example is leaf-sponges; where chimpanzees Pan troglodytes will rough-chomp a handful of leaves and use them to sop water out of a hollow tree. Other tools include: Ant-dip, Fly-whisk, Leaf-clip, Nut-crack, Play-start, Honey-dip, Hand-clasp, Marrow-pick, Leaf-groom, Termite-fish, Leaf-napkin, Self-tickle. I think they also use leaf-sponges to scoop the last tasty morsels of baby colobus monkey Piliocolobus rufomitratus brains. Which !TMI! I share solely to emphasise the hygroscopic qualities of leaves.

It has been SO 💧wet💧 this Fall! I figured that on balance I'd get more 🔥use🔥 out of these branches if I processed the hammock and got them all somewhere dry. And it was so. Tools: bushman bow-saw 600mm blade; saw-horse; mighty anvil loppers; feed-sacks; wheel-barrow. We had a tuthree dry days, and I was down in the forest on several of these, quietly working through the stack and carting it up nearer the house. I do not, under any circs, propose to do a whole day of working ever again: an hour here, a podcast there, and lots of tea-breaks. No hurry to burn it either, once it is out of the wet; but cutting to final length [as R] increases the evaporative surface area. Scraping off the mossy wet water-retaining bark [looking at you mountain-ash Sorbus aucuparia and oak Quercus robur] is worth doing now - the edge of a brick-layer's trowel works handy.

Sunday 12 November 2023

Sun 12 XI 23


Saturday 11 November 2023

The Earth Moves

In 2010, when Eyjafjallajökull lost its lunch and closed down European air-travel our own Dau.I and Dau.II, then 14 and 16, had an awf'y big adventure. They had chosen to go visit an old friend in Switzerland and had to repatriate themselves 1930s style by trains and boat and trains and boat. It brought into familial focus just how active Iceland can be. The island sits right on the boundary between the NorthAmerican and Eurasian tectonic plates which are, with more shrieking and grinding than the T in Boston, moving apart. 

The Reykjanes peninsula is where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (a divergent / constructive plate boundary) pops out of the sea for the first time since the Açores.The capital Reykjavik sits in the oxter of the peninsula to the North; with Keflavik Intl Airport out along the coast on the end of the Northside. I've flagged the fishing village of Grindavik because it's in The News today. And Metafilter since 7th Nov! The nearby represents the volcano Fagradalsfjall. Eyjafjallajökull is shown as another 130km due East.

Reykjanes has been in The News for the last two years because, after Fagradalsfjall erupted in Spring 2021, a swarm of earthquakes triggered a boost to volcatourism. Being conveniently close to Reykjavik and the airport, a lot of people turned up thinking of Mordor. Over the last tuthree weeks of 2023 another surge of tectonic rumbles has occurred just to the North of the working fishing town of Grindavík and even closer to two major infrastructural projects in the middle of the peninsula. 

1) The Svartsengi [black meadow] geothermal power station. Since 1976, this plant has been using the hot water to drive turbines to make electricity and adding that to the national grid. It also supplies hot-water for district heating in Reykjavik 45km NE. That's kinda neat, yes? Iceland, as it says on the tin, is cold in Winter but magma hot just under the surface. Steam central heating for an entire community is just a matter of pipework and maintenance. We otoh are burning wood and fossil fuel and destroying the planet.

2) The other local money-mill complex is the Blue Lagoon hydrothermal spa resort. "Healing waters. A subterranean spa. Gourmet cuisine. Luxurious suites. Otherworldly vistas. A universe of radiant wellbeing." This commercial venture battens onto the downstream effluent from Svartsengi insulating the clientele with plush towelling robes from any feelings of Mordourism. After holding out for rather longer than geological experts were comfortable with, The Blue Lagoon shuttered its facilities for a week at 0700hrs on the 9th November - to not hazard the lives of their employees. There had been a bigger shock than usual 6½ hours earlier, just after midnight, and ~40-50 spa-clients bottled out and hailed taxis to get them outta here.

Last night things got fizzy and the Civil Defense ordered up a fleet of buses to carry out the evacuation of Grindavík. They will be camping out in sports halls until the situation resolves itself. Everyone is hoping that the magma, which has uplifted the black meadow 8cm in the last two week will unzip to the North and spill out across the uninhabited part of peninsula off towards Keflavik. But precautionary principle applies. Lava can travel faster than a child can run and might arrive in town in 10-15 minutes. Better to spend a few days camping in a dry heated hall.

The last town-threatening eruption in Iceland was on Heimaey in Jan 1973 [bloboprev]. There, after evacuating the town, residual volunteers and civil defense folk sprayed 6 million tonnes of icy seawater at the lava face and stopped it from filling in their harbour. Some of the people of Heimaey never went back to daily island hardship and stayed on the mainland . . . in Grindavík!

Friday 10 November 2023

Grad Grind

Did I mention that we were all up in Dublin at the end of last week? I did! The primary purpose was not to deliver Knockroti to my adult offspring - they having been reduced to making Devon Splits instead. Nope, the main event was to witness Dau.I dressing cod-medieval to be given her MLIS cert by the President of the Dublin Business School DBS. MLIS = Master of Science in Information and Library Management.

I've been quite the bore explaining that I don't 'believe' in doing medieval in order to bear witness to getting a college degree. But I guessed the parents like it - having in some cases paid for it all. And here I was as The Parent, trying not to be curmudgeonly . . . not least because I paid for none of it. All our offspr left home very close to each 18th bday and have been making their own way ever since. They've worked hard, while holding down a regular job, to earn, so far, 3 college degrees. It takes a family to raise a degree, and we've all put in the hours critting and editing dissertations, presentations and essays for whoever is currently studenting.

Last Friday, therefore, we left home in the dark and arrived in the RDS before The Lead Actor. It's midterm, Friday, in the WFH era so traffic was super light and on-site parking was possible for anyone who had €10. The DBS was lifting €100 from each of their graduates, which I consider to be mean-spirited after they have lifted €14,000 in fees for each non-EU student. There was an Irish tradition of returning the luck penny to the buyer after you'd sold them your cow for proper money. €100 is less that a penny in the pound. And why am I emphasizing The Foreigners is this discourse? Because for the bundle of degrees being conferred with the MLIS - FinTech, DataAnalytics, HR management, Cybersecurity - the demographic was overwhelmingly.:

I counted ~290 backs-of-heads while enduring the relentless parade of strangers being marshalled into lines and getting their 7 seconds of fame on stage receiving their parchment from The DBS Pres. Dau.II (whose main interest in library work is diversity, inclusion and the dispossessed) counted the faces which, like hers, passed for white . . . N ~= 20. In a delicious irony - ya couldn't make up - the faces of the Gospel Choir which had been hired for inter-act entertainment were all parchment white:

Not a good optic for the DBS. POC are fine for mulcting of fees; paying for their talents, not so much.

The Dau.I? She done good: she took the course seriously; learned a lot, some of it useful for her work; and clocked a First Class Honours Degree - much better than feckless me achieved.

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Last of the fallen

In mid-Feb 2022, the country was battered by Storm Eunice. Among other damage the wind brought down a tree-sized branch from an ash Fraxinus excelsior near the front gate of our farrrrm. Ash has many uses about the farm: firewood, tool handles, artwork. But the species is locally doomed from an invasive and destructive fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus called ash-dieback. At the time I wrote:  As I R retire, I am fit-poor but time-rich, so there is no steaming hurry to process the wood. But, having logged, split, stacked and labelled [L] all the branches, I was left with a 6-7m long trunk of solid ash which was about as wide ⌀ as the length of my saw-blade and so I treated it like a daunting Javi Problem. One issue being that the limb was lying directly on the ground with potential for a) striking stone frrrPPP or b) having the beast settle on the blade like King Arthur's sword.

Archimedes δός μοι πᾷ στῶ καὶ τὰν γᾶν κινῶ [Give me a place to stand and the earth can be moved] to the rescue! A few months ago I took a small fulcrum log and an iron bar and found that I could lever one end of the bough an inch or two above the earth. With some contortion and some iteration, I was able to get a stable wedge under the wood and . . . sink back exhausted. The next fine day I seized my saw, touched up her teeth, fueled and chain-oiled and fired that sucker up. I cut a few rounds off. But with each cut the ⌀ increased and so I stopped after half a tankful and a mountain of sawdust. It's been like that for 21 months (!), intermittent levering wedging cutting and splitting. 

On Saturday, 28th October 2023, I got near enough to the butt of the fallen branch that I was able to lift up the last 80cm and stand it on its end. You can see the last round of it under the slitting maul which reduced it and the rest of the stick to billets small enough to go up the chimney. A good few large branches and a couple of whole hawthorn trees have fallen to the ground about the property since Feb 2022 and I've found those easier to process. But I'm right glad to make an end of The Big Stick that was in my face every time I was down by the woodshed.

You will note that I've taken to labelling the several woodstacks around the place: it find a use for the many many broken slates which have rained down from the sheds over the last 30 years. I can't be relied on to remember when each bunkerful was cut-and-split. And even if I could, I R an Old and I'm not guaranteeing that I'll outlive the stacks. It would be a shame if those who came after attempted to get some heat from laurel Prunus laurocerasus or no tar from Scot's pine Pinus sylvestris by putting them in the stove too early.

Monday 6 November 2023

Dude you lost me!

To the nearest whole number, I never listen to The News each day on the wireless and we don't have a telly. On the few occasions when I have this radiotainment wash over me, - [like on Thursday 2nd November last, when I was having lunch a) with The Beloved b) at the kitchen table c) at One o'clock] - then my untuned ear has to scrabble to keep up. In among the usual fare of murders, invasions, road deaths, RTE invited Paul Moore from Met Éireann to talk about October and how wet it had been.

Don't we know it. On top of a soppy September, October has seen relentless precipitation. On the Monday (16Oct) before Storm Babet (18Oct) our neighbour got our traditional hay meadows knocked, and the same contractor came back on the Tuesday (17Oct) to bale and wrap the haylage. The tractors did damage to the field surface, especially where it ran steep down by the river, but the worms will turn that over and flatten it out during the next 6 months. But the bales were left in forlorn rows at the top of each field. Tuthree weeks of rain have turned the fields from soft to squelchy. Loading a trailer and drawing the bales off site any time soon will result in a re-enactment of Passchendaele (12 . X . 1914) without the dead soldiers. So those tonnes of animal feed mebbe better written off.

Mais revenons nous à nos meteorologists. Paul Moore was attempting to explain to the plain  people of Ireland just how wet October had been in Cork. Essentially he was reading verbatim from their October Climate Report: "Along with Cork Airport and Roches Point, Moore Park also had its wettest October on record with 250.8 mm (221% of its Long Term Average)" etc. etc. Those central numbers - 250.8 mm (221%) - are hard enough to process in cold print, especially if whirling in a blizzard of similar numbers from Donegal and Wexford. Over the earwaves, they just become screensaver. 

Here's some free advice to public servants on the airwaves: keep it simple, keep it salient. The trailing numbers are the least important but the last thing the reader hears. "recency effect" where an item at the end of a list is easier to recall skews the message in the wrong way. By giving fewer figures you get a more accurate message across. Here 250 mm (220%) is better; 250.8 mm (more than twice normal) is better still. Obvs that .8 mm is important: it is 8 tonnes of extra water falling on some poor bugger's 1 hectare field. With the ground already water-logged, those 8 tonnes will finish up in a drain or a culvert which may thereby back-up or block-off and help flood the local Post Office. The Blob has been in acre-feet land before. But none of that is appropriate <TMI ! TMI> for the National 1 o'clock News. We're all sighing in relief that the eye of Storm Ciarán passed Ireland to the South on Thursday wee hours to deliver its load up La Manche in England and France. Winds 100km/h in Jersey . . . sorry for my pal Dec who lives on the island!

Sunday 5 November 2023

Guido Fawkes

When I was growing up in England in the 1960s, Hallowe'en was not an event, except in the formal Ch of Eng sense of All Saint's Eve the day before the Feast of All Saints on 1st November. Much of the pagan hoopla - bonfires, fireworks, mischief - was transferred to Guy Fawkes Day which memorialized a failed plot against the King in Parliament. The following years, celebrations were legislated in The Observance of 5th November Act 1605 aka The Thanksgiving Act in which the preamble laid out the terms of reference 

"many malignant and devilish Papists, Jesuits, and Seminary Priests, much envying and fearing, conspired most horribly, when the King's most excellent Majesty, the Queen, the Prince, and the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, should have been assembled in the Upper House of Parliament upon the Fifth Day of November"

So tonight is when Catholics are to be burned in effigy across the water in England. What elsssssse?:

Friday 3 November 2023

Tacit is the word

In the run up to retirement 3 years and 4 weeks ago, I was quite insufferable about how I was boarding the ice-flow to make my desk available for a younger, fitter, hungrier teacher who would be a more attainable / realistic role model for young [female] scientists. The standard [tired]  response to my posturing was to ask "what about your experience? isn't that valuable?" It is, of course, because in doing the same old, same old, for many years, you get better at doing it. Up to a point, Lord Copper: teaching is only partly about content / syllabus / curriculum but also about the process and the delivery. Enthusiasm for / in / about the process is more inspirational than the stuff taught.

And it's probably true that this meta-curriculum a) cannot be assessed b) cannot be described even if it c) can be reproduced. Good teaching involves a lot of perceptual learning: stuff that the teacher internalises by feedback but might have difficulty incorporating in a lesson plan. This was one of the annoying fatuities of having to work in place that was sold on documentation and paper trails. If I wanted to claim mileage for driving off campus on company business, I had to secure prior appro from my Head of Department; who needed the appro of the Head of School; who needed to send the paperwork up two further layers of bureaucracy. Having completed the off-site work, I had to [✓] complete [✓] another [✓] form [✓] and send it up the same trail.

To start a new course required a mire of forms itemizing Learning Outcomes [LO] and Assessment Methods [AM] and Deliverables [D?]. The forms and applications had to be scrutinized by officials and committees of officials. It was no wonder that so many of my colleagues were still teaching the same old tried-tested-boring labs year after year. The prime LO here for students? B o o o r r r i n g!

I'm not sure where that-all came from! Sorry. What I really wanted to flag was another sort of Tacit Knowledge inspired by this article Chicken Sexing for coders which treats of embedded knowledge that you build up over years on the job. You know what's crap even if it takes a lot more effort to demonstrate why something won't work.

"Near the end of my internship, we found that we had too much work to do and too few engineers to do it with, so I was asked to code a set of API endpoints on my own. I completed my task and asked a senior engineer to look at my code — he walked over, glanced at my controller file, and said “Oh, that’s not good, this would be a problem later. Structure it this way. It was less than a few seconds at most, scrolling through the hundred or so lines I’d written". 

I saw the same thing occurring at every lab meeting I attended when I was close to the cutting edge of science. [Before I settled down to teaching farmer's daughters and pharmacy technicians the rudiments of biology and maths]. At those lab meetings, some youngster would present their latest research, often at a loss to explain why things were not going well. The Gaffer would suggest new directions; (2 or 3 years) older lab-members might chime in with technical detail and Presenter would be able to go forward a bit less bowed. It might be years since The Gaffer had put on a lab-coat in anger but the tech details were usually less important than the approach, the mindset and the crap-detector.

Yesterday I had another encounter with tacit knowledge / embedded experience. Dau.II may have left home again but there are still elements of hungry chick in our relationship. While occupying the sofa, she had an insatiable appetite for Knockroti the pastiche of chapatti which I've slapping on the stove for the last 20 years:

These used to be how I would use up any bits of bread dough which were surplus to the weight required to make a 800g or 1200g loaf-pan loaf. Years ago, I promoted an old cast-iron fry-pan for this sole purpose. Because, I only used it for off-cuts, I didn't really get the process embedded in muscle-memory. I can remember making a big fuss when the two crusts were separated by steam power and the chup puffed up "Fußball!" I'd cry auf Deutsch out and turn to my family for approval. 

We're going up to Dublin today and yesterday I was requested and required to make as many K'roti as I had patience for, because m'chicks had almost emptied their freezer of chupplies. On it! You can see the first 8 Fußballen of the batch. It's rare now to fail in the desired separation of the two crusts . . . because some barely conscious part of my 'mind' knows the ingredients, temp, timing to achieve this aim.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Is é mo ainm Bród

My name is PRIDE. I do my best to be down with the gays. And I've had learn the Irish language on the long finger for at least 30 years. Back in my TCD days, the Conradh was forever offering Irish language lessons in Freshers' week; I noted the fact; then went back to the day job. Now RTE announces that these two scarcely fulfilled needs / desires have collided in the re-launch of an Foclóir Aiteach an English-Irish dictionary of terms. Also available as PDF. There cannot be that many readers of The Blob who are: BLT && monoglot Ingles && hoping to date / hangout with people who are exclusively Gaeilgeoir. Then again I could defo see a partner urging "Oh Oh labhair Gaeilge liom, a créatúr sexy". This is one case when an Foclóir Aiteach will be on the bedside table.

There is also a call for its use in an officially bi-lingual society [with Irish having constitutional precedence] in drafting legislation, info-posters RSE /  SPHE text-books: one hour a week in relationships and sex education (RSE) are to be compulsory for 15 to 18 year olds in Irish schools. It's part of a Five Year Plan to make changes to the social, personal and health education (SPHE) for the Leaving Cert cycle. Using sexy in my example of pillow-talk in the prev para is a cultural cop-out, for example: use gnéasúil instead - it's . . . sexier.

The dictionary is sponsored inter alia by TENI Transgender Equality Network Ireland and BelongTo (mission statement: a world where LGBTI+ young people are equal, safe, and valued in the diversity of their identities and experiences). Check also SpunOut for yoof sex advice and info.

Apart from the bilingual purpose of this word-list, it is also important / useful to read the whole list in either language to see what the territory is. Despite RTE assertionsan Foclóir Aiteach is missing such handy terms as bunadóir (bottom), barradóir (top) and ileadóir (switch). New to me term: Spivak gender-neutral pronouns.